Red Deer River Naturalists

The Red Deer river Naturalists are a group dedicated to learning about and preserving natural history. They have regular programs with speakers and many field trips.

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Sunday, March 7, 2010

Close Encounters with a Merlin

       I have always admired the merlin with its rapid wing beat and exuberant flying patterns. The merlin is a small falcon with streaked underparts,  the male with a blue gray back and female with light brown back. The merlin winters in central Alberta. My residential district in Red Deer usually has a resident merlin for my viewing pleasure.

      A few days ago I had a new exprience with a merlin. A female flew by me at eye level a little more than arms length from me. Super experience.

      I was out about 10:30 AM for a walk. The merlin buzzed a spruce tree on the opposite side of the street. There were several house sparrows in the spruce but they did not flush...just made a racket. The merlin quickly darted over the house and disappeared. So I thought well that's interesting and I resumed walking. I had walked about 10 steps when I heard the merlin coming again. ki ki ki! This time the merlin flew right by me at eye level. I could clearly see all markings.

      What was she up to? After my shock I realized I was standing beside a large spruce tree which had house sparrows in it. I suppose the merlin wanted to use me as post to try and flush the sparrows. The sparrows didn't buy the trick. They squawked but did not flush and the merlin disappeared over the house.

      I'm sure that the merlin caught breakfast shortly as she was intent on scaring something out of the trees where it could be caught.
  
     Another hunting technique used by the merlin is to get under a flock of bohemian waxwings. The waxwings rise to get away from the merlin. Sooner or later one of the waxwings will tire and drop out of the flock. The merlin hones in on the hapless individual and like a bullet contacts the falling bird and the merlin has its prey.

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