Merlin the wizard

female Merlin Falcon, photo by Dee Kuder

Another spring migrant that has moved into the area is the Merlin, falco columbarius. The Merlin is a Falcon and in the Spring they announce their arrival with a loud piercing call that is very memorable.

In Minnesota we have the possiblity of seeing the 4 Falcon species that occur in North America. The Gyrfalcon is the largest of the Falcons and we only have the chance to see this magnificent bird during the winter season. They live in the arctic and sometimes move south to winter in Minnesota.

The Peregrine Falcon is the next largest Falcon. They were once threatened with extinction due to DDT exposure. Now Peregrine’s have been reintroduced in some areas with great success. Peregrine Falcons place their nest on a ledge on the sides of cliffs. They will also use nesting platforms that have been placed on tall buildings and other tall structures. Duluth and the Twin Cities both host many pairs of Peregrines on these nesting platforms.

The next Falcon size-wise is the Merlin Falcon, although they are barely bigger than their cousin the American Kestral (which is also a Falcon).

“The Merlin Falcon inhabits prairies, coastlines and forests throughout North America and Eurasia. The Merlin Falcon has been bred for falconry since the Middle Ages in Europe, where it was the only bird female austringers were allowed to fly, since it was considered “dainty”. This is in fact where the name “Merlin” originated, as female falconers’ birds in France were known as “émerillons”. Today, Merlins are threatened by loss of habitat and by bad relations with poultry farmers, as they may steal small birds.” [from]

What I find interesting about the Merlins up north here along the border is that they are intrinsically attracted to water and large lakes with islands. The American Kestral on the other hand prefers open fields and they can often be seen on power lines waiting for their prey to pass under them on the ground. Kestral’s mainly eat small rodents and large insects rarely taking birds. But, the Merlin Falcon lives on birds as their main source of food, and they are not afraid of size. They will take diminuitive Warblers, but they can also take birds as large as ducks! They are the terrorists of the bird world. Just their style of hunting leaves a aura of mystery around them. They will pick out their prey and then follow it pretending to be a clumsy bird, perhaps a pigeon or something like that, then at the last moment they will quickly dart at their prey and in that instant it is too late for the hunted bird.

photo by Dee Kuder

Merlin with prey, photo by Dee Kuder

Sunday afternoon, I saw a small raptor fly by, and it was carrying a bird in its talons. I followed the bird on foot as I knew it wouldn’t stray too far from its food. I found the bird in a birch tree, and we peered at each other for a while, while I positively identified her as a female Merlin. Females are brown and streaky with a faint moustache on the side of the face. Males are more colorful with a blue-gray back. Funny I hadn’t heard their distinctive call yet as that is usually what brings my attention to their presence. Here is a link to their vocalization from the Macaulay Library:


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