We noticed this guy when he swooped down to the seed-feeder and then chased after a chickadee. We definitely root for the little chickadees and, in fact, think they should be our state bird since they don’t bug out in the winter like the Robins do. The chickadee escaped unharmed.
The Merlin sat on this branch in a nearby white pine, focused on our feeder pole. All activity ceased at the feeders. No chickadees. No nuthatches. No finches, even though the feeders had been Grand Central Station before the Merlin arrived. The Merlin sat on the branch for about 10 minutes. Around then, a Blue Jay started pestering him. The jay flew very close to the Merlin, landing on either side of him on the same branch. The jay seemed to hit the Merlin at least once. Apparently, with his “cover” blown, the Merlin decided to go find better hunting grounds.
We initially misidentified this Merlin as a Sharp-shinned Hawk. The two birds are similarly sized, and do look somewhat alike. But, apparently, the Merlin’s mustache stripe is a give-away. Sharpies are not mustachioed. And they have a longer tail and a less elongated body. Merlins are small birds of prey–ranging only between 9.5 and 11.5 in length.
According to the Cornell ornithology website, Merlins have two modes: scanning areas patiently from a tree, and flying at top speed in pursuit of small birds. We were fortunate to see both modes. Merlins are known to hunt in pairs at times. One Merlin will flush a flock of waxwings and the other comes in for the kill, taking advantage of the confusion.
When nesting, Merlins are squatters. They use an abandoned nest from a crow, raven, hawk or magpie.