Wednesday, November 28, 2012


While birding on Tuesday, John Holden and I came upon this Merlin in Rice County, Minnesota. The name Merlin comes from the Old French, "esmerillion." In North America, Merlins used to be called Pigeon Hawks. Although they take small birds, Merlin’s are falcons.

As did other raptors, Merlins suffered serious declines when DDT was in wide use. But the species is recovering, even colonizing urban areas. Three races of Merlins inhabit North America (and the species is found across all of the Northern Hemisphere). These races are the Black Merlin from the Pacific Northwest, the Taiga Merlin from the northern forests, and the Prairie Merlin from northern prairies and aspen parklands. Black Merlins are not found in Minnesota. The other two races are to be expected here and are often easily identified; intermediate-plumaged individuals can be encountered. This individual gave me pause and may well be intermediate. I finally decided that its overall dark coloration, creamy eye-stripe, and buffy breast add up to a taiga bird. Prairie Merlins are much paler birds and are rare in eastern Minnesota.

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