Falcons are fast. I’ll say it again. Falcons are fast! When someone at the hawk watch calls out “Merlin”, you’ve got to be quick in order to see it. If you have your camera with you and you’re trying to get a shot of it …. well….. good luck.
The Merlin is a near mystery to me. Any new fact that I can learn adds to the small but growing amount of information that I have. Here is some of what I have learned so far:
- The Merlin is a bird of prey that was once known in North America colloquially as a pigeon hawk
- The female Merlin is considerably larger than the male. Such sexual dimorphism is common among raptors; it allows males and females to hunt different prey animals and decreases the territory size needed to feed a mated pair
- Merlins are well known for fiercely attacking any birds of prey that they encounter, even adult eagles.
- Breeding Merlin pairs will frequently hunt cooperatively, with one bird flushing the prey toward its mate.
- The Merlin will readily take prey that is flushed by other causes, and can for example be seen tagging along after Sharp-shinned hawks to catch birds that escape the Sharp-shinn’s attack and fly into the open air.
- The Merlin is quite unafraid, and will readily attack anything that moves conspicuously. Merlins have even been observed trying to “”catch”” automobiles and trains.
- Smaller birds will generally avoid a hunting Merlin if possible. Even in the Cayman Islands (where it only occurs in winter), Bananaquits were noted to die of an apparent heart attack or stroke, without being physically harmed, when a Merlin went at them and they could not escape.
- Adult Merlins may be preyed on by larger raptors, especially Peregrine Falcons, eagle-owls (e.g., Great Horned Owl), and larger Accipiter hawks (e.g., Northern Goshawk). In general however, carnivorous birds avoid Merlins due to their aggressiveness and agility
The chart below shows the numbers of Merlins that have been counted at the Picatinny Peak, Raccoon Ridge, Scott’s Mountain, Sunrise Mountain, and Wildcat Ridge hawk watches in Northwest New Jersey.