Bird of the Week


2020/01/bird-of-the-week-Merlin-300-300x269.jpg Photo courtesy Charles Martinez

This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the merlin.

Merlins are small, fierce falcons typically flying 30 mph with pointed wings and quick, powerful wing beats. Spectacular aerial displays by the male are part of courtship rituals.

They eat mostly songbirds or small shorebirds, often specializing in the most abundant species in an area. Hunting styles include scanning the surroundings from treetops or flying horizontally in quick pursuit and chasing prey upwards until it tires. They sometimes hunt in pairs. Each merlin eats up to 900 birds per year. In turn, they are preyed upon by peregrine falcons, great-horned owls, and Cooper’s and red-tailed hawks.

Although at 9.5 inches to 11.5 inches, merlins are only slightly larger than a kestrel; they can weigh up to three times as much. Like most raptors, the female is larger than the male. Males have bluish-gray backs, heavily streaked undersides and black tails with thin white bands. They show a thin white eyebrow, but the falcon mustache is not evident. Females and immatures are brownish-colored.

Three subspecies varying in plumage, ranging from dark to light, occur in North America. Merlins are widespread, but not common, within their range. Adapting to changes in their habitats, they are becoming more numerous in urban areas due to the abundance of house sparrows to feed on. They are reported in our area from late fall through spring.

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