Sunday, April 07, 2013


Merlin - Falco columbarius

The species name is derived from the Latin word for pigeon, because the Merlin looks similar to a pigeon in flight. The Prairie Merlin variety is common in the Calgary region. Females are larger than males. 

Merlins take smaller birds on the wing. Waxwings are popular in the winter and house sparrows in summer. These falcons often fly fast in a straight line and hope to surprise flocks of smaller birds and then take the slowest to react. Sometimes they stun the bird first with their feet. They kill with a short strongly hooked bill that has a small "tooth" near the tip, which serves to sever the spinal cord of the prey. The bill has a round peg in the center of the nostril, which is thought to disrupt airflow and to allow breathing at high speed. 

The young fly at 25 to 30 days and are independent by six weeks. 
This adult male Merlin was stunned after flying into the living room window. An hour or so later he flew off, hopefully without sequelae.  

As I opened the living room curtains on March 13, 2013, I saw a small raptor flash across the lawn in pursuit of a Common Redpoll. The Merlin alighted on a branch of the Mayday and was patient enough for me to capture this photo. Another Redpoll happened by and in a flash the hawk was again in hot pursuit. The hawk make numerous sharp deft turns without brushing a branch, and came to rest on the ground behind the Mountain Ash. The Redpoll escaped.
The above photo is the best of a sequence I shot on March 3, 2009. I watched as the Merlin captured a Common Redpoll at one of the feeders and then relocated to the edge of the snow-covered rock garden to patiently pluck and devour the little bird. The Merlin used one foot to hold the redpoll down while plucking upwards with his beak. The feeding lasted about 15 minutes.

The Merlin above was perched in an Aspen beside the Elbow River on April 22, 2013.  


The Atlas of Breeding Birds of Alberta. Federation of Alberta Naturalists. 2007.

Baicich PJ, Harrison CJO. Nests, Eggs, and Nestlings of North American Birds. Princeton UP. 2005.

Dunne P, Sibley D, Sutton C. Hawks in Flight. Houghton Mifflin Co. Boston. 1988.

Fisher C, Acorn J. Birds of Alberta. Lone Pine Publishing. Edmonton. 1998.

Sibley David A. The Sibley Guide to Bird Life & Behavior. Alfred A Knopf, Inc. New York. 2001.

Scotter GW, Ulrich TJ, Jones EJ. Birds in the Canadian Rockies. Prairie Books. Saskatoon. 1990.

Tudge Colin. The Bird. Crown Publishers. New York. 2008.

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