The plan for today was to post this photo and then tell you about Merlins. But, upon reflection and study of the photo and the one below, we decided this wasn’t a Merlin at all, but a juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk.
So, there is no occasion to tell you that most Merlin identifications go like this: You’re out someplace flat, maybe Cape May or Laguna Atascosa or the Klamath Basin Wildlife Refuge when, on the far left of your field of vision you glimpse a small darkish blur. By the time you react and focus, the blur has exited your field of vision stage right. Then you say, “That was a Merlin,” and add it to your list for the day.
A merlin’s low, ground-hugging flight achieves an average speed of 50 km/h and often exceeds that. Capable of aerial maneuvers rivaling its larger cousins — Prairie Falcons and Peregrine Falcons — it dines primarily on small birds. And, every so often, one visits a backyard bird feeder on its daily rounds. Sometimes, she even sits still long enough for a human to get a photograph.
Which was what we thought happened until we really looked at the photograph and realized there was no excuse to tell you anything at all about Merlins. Which are really fast falcons and among the fastest birds in the world at level flight. It would be really fine to have one visit and sit still for a portrait.
Because we really wanted this bird to be a Merlin, if you think we are wrong about it being a Sharp-shinned Hawk, please let us know.