Merlin (Merlin columbarius)
“Klee-klee.” I heard the high-pitched call but was too far out the door to stop mid-step.line, The predator, afraid of me, flew away. The garden was littered with the jay’s feathers. It flew, barely, and I lost track of it while I looked for the other bird. I expected to find a Cooper’s or Sharp-shinned hawk; a merlin hadn’t crossed my mind.
At the top of a tamarack sat an unusually fat blue jay. I scanned the sky and trees but didn’t find the bird I searched for. My eyes went back to the fat jay…not a jay. A merlin (Merlin columbarius), a first siting for me. Merlins are a bit larger and stockier than jays. They’re 9-13 inches tall and have a wingspan of 28 to 32 inches.
The merlin hunted around the bird feeding station for an easy meal. They usually fly in level with their prey rather than dive to get the bird, bat or large insects and pull them from the air. Merlins are interesting birds. They’re excellent hunters but also opportunists that will hunt behind other birds of prey to take a meal the other bird has missed or startled. Pairs hunt together, one startling small birds into the air and the other making the catch. They perch in trees and watch open fields for small animals. When hunting is good, they cache food for later. I believe the merlin took a red squirrel I left on the back porch for our resident short-tailed weasel.
The courtship of merlins is, I’ve read, easy to spot. The male flies with such speed and precision with dives and rolls that he resembles the Blue Angels. You might find merlins nesting in old nests left by larger birds. They do little work to improve the nest. If they do recycle a nest it might be as low as 10 feet from the ground or as high as 60 feet. They’ll also nest in tree cavities, on ledges and even the ground. A clutch averages four or five eggs. The female spends most of the time incubating. The male brings food to her and will take over to give her time to hunt. She stays with the offspring until he can no longer bring enough food to keep everyone fed.
Merlins in the Woodlot
This adaptable falcon might be anywhere in your woodlot. They flush birds from trees and hunt over open fields. Your woodlot need not be large to attract merlins. They live in the woods, in the country, suburbs and urban areas. Keep an eye out. You never know where you might see them next.