This fierce little bird is why my parents have taken down the bird feeder at the cottage. It was turning into the wrong kind of bird feeder (as you can see here).
Merlins are one of the smallest falcons (only Kestrels are smaller), but they don’t let that stop them from ruling their particular territory. I saw one beating up an Osprey the other day – the Osprey was three or four times the size of the Merlin, but was definitely getting the worst of it. Merlins eat mostly songbirds, and the occasional dragonfly. They don’t attack from above like Peregrine Falcons do; instead they chase their prey, often upwards, until it tires. Sometimes they hunt in pairs, one of them scaring the birds up and the other pouncing. They’re incredibly fast. (They’re also incredibly noisy. The sound recordings at the Cornell Ornithology Lab don’t do justice to the racket they make.)
In the Middle Ages, Merlins were used as hunting birds by noblewomen, which led them to be called Ladyhawks. Modern falconers still sometimes use them to hunt pigeons.
The Merlins at my parents’ cottage are remarkably tame. Several times one of them landed on a tree only a few feet away from us, and didn’t seem at all bothered by my intense interest in it. Indeed, it spent several minutes trying to stare me down. (Fortunately, I’m too large to be considered “Lunch”.)
There are five photos in this gallery. Click on any photo to launch.