Yesterday I saw a few feathers on top of the snow. Looking into the cottonwoods beside our house (near Lookout CA – Modoc County) I saw a raptor perched atop one of the highest branches. Much to my delight when I looked at the photographs I realized that a merlin (Falco columbarius) was the culprit.
Merlins are small, compact, fast-flying falcons that generally hunt on the wing and take their prey in midair. They will also hunt from a perch and take passing prey. Merlins feed primarily on small to mid-sized birds but will take insects like dragonflies.
Male merlins have a blue-grey back and whitish undersides streaked with brown. Females and juveniles have slate-brown backs and heavily streaked buffy underparts. They have a dark eye and the facial moustaches are less noticeable than those of most other falcons. There are three recognized geographic varieties.
Widespread throughout the holarctic, Western Hemisphere merlins summer in Canada and the Arctic and winter in western and southern United States down through Central America and extreme northern South America. They are uncommon in our area in the winter.
A resident of open conifer or deciduous forests, merlins are becoming adapted to urban and suburban settings.
Merlins were used by Medieval European noblewomen for sport and still today falconers use merlins for hunting.
I am happy to have seen the merlin, even if it probably did take one of the juncos that like to hide in our lilac bushes.