Saturday, November 26, 2016

A Merlin's Thanksgiving Meal

More accurately, it was the Merlin's day-after-Thanksgiving meal, which is known in my family as "Second Thanksgiving," and involves a repeat of the traditional fare (comprised of leftovers).
In any case, I spotted this Merlin (Falco columbarius) at the Merced National Wildlife Refuge yesterday during our annual Black Friday protest outing (we hike or bird or otherwise explore and appreciate nature rather than shop, and have done so for a number of years even before REI's brilliant #OptOutside campaign!)  The Merlin was perched in a tree with its lunch, a freshly-killed songbird (or Passerine).  We watched the lovely falcon for about 15 minutes as it plucked feathers from its catch, pausing to look around after every pluck.
Merlins are smallish falcons, smaller than the Prairie Falcon (Falco mexicanus) or Peregrine Falcon (F. peregrinus), but larger than the American Kestrel (F. sparverius).  They use high-speed surprise attacks in mid-air to capture their prey, usually smaller birds such as songbirds and shorebirds. 
Merlins nest farther north, largely in Canada and the Pacific Northwest, but here in California we are lucky enough to host them during the winter months where there is suitable habitat.  Merlins prefer grasslands, open forests and shorelines, where they can find abundant prey. 

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