Thursday, 8 November 2012

Birds in Focus - Merlin

Merlin (RSPB)
The Merlin is a compact, dashing falcon with a relatively long, square-cut tail and rather broad-based pointed wings, shorter than those of other falcons. At about 11 inches (28cm) long, it's the UK's smallest raptor (bird of prey) and its small size enables it to hover and hang in the breeze as it pursues its prey.

Merlins are built for aerial chases and has more bulk and muscle than the Kestrel, a bird with which it is easily confused. However, it has broader-based wings and its wingbeat tends to be rapid with occasional glides, wings held close to the body.

The tail is also shorter than a Kestrel's with a rung pattern rather than a black terminal band. Kestrels don't need so much power for hovering and dropping on their prey, whereas the Merlin is a stronger bird eating mainly small birds.  Along with the male Sparrowhawk (to which it also bears some resemblance) and Kestrel, the Merlin can be regarded as part of a 'triple' species.

The place to look for Merlins is lowland and coastal areas where they are often found sitting on posts or stones - indeed the old name for Merlins is 'Stone Falcon'. The adult male bird is a blue-grey colour with an orange-buff chest and a tail with a black terminal band.  Female and immature Merlins are a uniform dark brown colour with darker bands or 'rungs' around the tail.  In flight there is no colour contrast between the 'hand' and the 'arm'.

Merlin in flight (RSPB)
In winter the UK population increases as most of the Icelandic breeding birds migrate to our warmer climate. Although recovering from a population crash in the late 20th century it is still on the Amber List.

The UK breeding population of Merlin is at the south-west extremity of its European range, and is thinly scattered across upland moorland from south-west England north to Shetland.

In winter birds leave upland areas and come down to inland lowland and coastal areas. They can be seen in almost any open country but are often found near coasts. They can be found at roosts in reedbeds, bogs and on heaths, often with Hen Harriers.

The birds are present all year round leaving their upland breeding areas between August and October, when Northern European birds also arrive here.  In summer the RSPB reserves at Forsinard, Highland and Trumland (Orkney) have Merlins. In winter they are regularly seen at: Elmley Marshes, Kent; Northward Hill, Kent; Martin Mere, Lancs; Marshside, Merseyside; Pulborough Brooks, Sussex; and Blacktoft Sands, Yorkshire.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Just type in your comment and select 'Anonymous' from the 'Comment as:' drop down list. Then click the 'Publish' button - thanks.