MerlinFalco columbarius (Linnaeus)
Status Rare in summer, fairly common transient, uncommon in winter. Breeds. Most frequently seen in September and October, especially along the coast and on our southernmost islands. On Seal Island, peak counts of 10-30 individuals have been obtained almost annually between mid-September and mid-October in the past two decades. Often they are seen leaving the island to the south or southeast, evidently prepared to undertake long over-water flights. A few are reported most winters, especially around towns or cities, sometimes preying on small birds around bird feeders. An increase in reports during late March or early April appears to represent first returning migrants, which continue to be seen through May.
Description Length: 25–35 cm. Adult male: Upperparts pale slate-blue, dark slate-gray or bluish black, shaft streaked with black. Tail barred with black and similar blue in varying proportions. Below, white or cream, more or less heavily streaked with ochre and brown, heaviest and darkest on flanks. Throat white, immaculate or sparsely streaked. Thighs strongly tinged with warm buff, more or less heavily streaked with dark or sandy brown. Adult female: Similar but larger, with brownish upperparts. Immatures: Similar to female.
Breeding Nest: Usually in trees, sometimes on a cliffside and not infrequently on the ground. Rarely in a tree cavity. When tree sites are chosen, the old nest of a crow is sometimes used as a base. Eggs: 2-5, usually 4-5; creamy, heavily blotched with various shades and densities of reddish brown. Only a few nests have been recorded in the province.
The first was discovered on the "Edmunds Grounds" on the outskirts of Halifax by Lloyd Duncanson on 1 August 1955. It was in a spruce tree about 8 m up, placed in a nest formerly used by crows. Two fully fledged young were perched on a limb near the nest, and a parent bird scolded vociferously.
The second nesting pair, discovered by Howard G. Scott near his home in New Glasgow, afforded him an excellent opportunity to watch between early June and early August 1967 as their brood of two fledged. Mr. Scott graphically described the falcons' persistent harassment of every raven that came within range of their little kingdom, a trait typical of Merlins. Though the raven is a powerful bird, strong on the wing, and at least three to four times larger than the Merlin, it is no match for the latter in aerial maneuvering. On several occasions he saw the pair attack their enemy, one from beneath and one from above. He watched the bird below suddenly assume an inverted position, momentarily flying upside down with its talons extended to strike the raven, forcing the intruder on one occasion to make a headlong crash landing in an attempt to escape its attackers, "croaking dismally" as it disappeared into a thicket of spruce. When Mr. Scott entered the woods to assess the damages, the raven fled from its hideout, apparently unharmed. Among more recent nestings, were those in Point Pleasant Park, Halifax, in 1980 and 1981, evidently successful despite the summer throngs of people frequenting the park.
Range In North America, breeds from Alaska to Newfoundland, north to the tree limit and south to the northern United States. Winters from the United States (rarely southern Canada) south to the West Indies and northern South America. Widely distributed in the Old World.
Remarks This species was once known as the "Pigeon Hawk" in North America, a name derived from its resemblance in flight to the extinct Passenger Pigeon. Unlike its larger relative, the Peregrine Falcon, it is not a wary bird, often allowing humans to approach within easy gunshot. This misplaced confidence far too often led to its destruction in the past.
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