Monday, December 22, 2014

A Merlin First for Me: Perching on a Wire

Something I saw on my way home from work today reminded me of a Hawkwatch International blog post I read the other day. The post was cautioning against using "always" and "never" when describing bird appearances and behaviors.

When I was new to birding I wanted to learn how to identify each species I encountered by understanding their shape and plumage. After I had been birding for a while I began to key in on behavior as another consideration for correctly identifying a bird species. One behavior I picked up on very quickly because of my desire to find falcons was that American Kestrels, North America's smallest falcon, regularly perched on power lines that ran along road sides. The similar looking Merlin, a slightly larger and bulkier falcon which moves down from Canada and Alaska into the lower US states and Mexico during winter months seemed to avoid perching on wires. Instead, I always found them perched on posts, poles, buildings, and trees. After several years of birding and having never seen a Merlin perched on a wire I concluded that if a small falcon was seen on a wire it would be a Kestrel. I tested this behavior countless times and even at great distances. It seemed that my "sure fire" way to separate a Merlin from a Kestrel was validated by other birders, including very experienced birders. That was until this afternoon when I observed and photographed a Merlin that was perched on a power line near the entrance to my neighborhood. The wind was blowing quite a bit so the falcon was leaning into the wind as it perched.

My bubble did not burst when I saw a Merlin on a wire. I've been wrong about birds more times than I'll ever remember. I was actually rather excited to see that one of my favorite falcons was more versatile than I had supposed. The image below is one I've grown more accustomed to seeing when I discover a Merlin perched along the road. I'll take a look at a Merlin no matter where it appears, even if it is just a peek over the edge of a tall power pole as I stop my vehicle for a short look from below.

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