Thursday, August 29, 2019


Bird feeder at Fairbanks home

In my last blog, I wrote about birds disappearing from our yard and surrounding woods and wondered if their food had been poisoned by pesticides or herbicides, or if they had migrated early, or did they just not like the birdbath we'd filled with reverse osmosis water. They may not have liked the appearance of our new bird feeder, which resembles the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Yesterday afternoon we looked out the living room window at the bird feeder and, voila, we discovered an ominous reason for the sudden absence of birdlife (except for a few marauding crows). Atop the new bird feeder, wings folded neatly and looking like a polite statue of itself, was a Merlin falcon whose chief diet consists of small birds — sparrows, wrens, nuthatches, and titmice that once flocked to our yard, but which must have become prey for this large bird.

I’ve read that Merlins watch for prey from a perch, and what better perch than our tall bird feeder? However, he catches this prey in mid-air, flying at race track speed, and the poor smaller bird dies from sudden attack. What do raptors do with feathers and bill?

We watched him for a half hour or so until he flew into the woods where he’d probably found an abandoned crow’s nest, 10 - 50 feet above the ground. I was afraid to track him, having heard the story about a hawk attacking a friend when she walked down to her mailbox to get a better view of the bird.

We heard no bird calls as we watched, but later I thought I heard a loud cackle that this raptor often makes. The Merlin could probably team up with crows to make a raucous sonata, but crows regard themselves as creatures superior to most birds and mostly frequent the front yard where they chase squirrels into the tall hemlock. They seem to prefer food in freshly mown grass, rather than smaller birds.

In my readings, I discovered that Merlins also enjoy a good meal of snakes, rats, and bats so they couldn’t be all bad. However, I confess that I prefer the small bird population we'd enjoyed watching splash in the birdbath, and I’m considering dismantling the Merlin’s perch, the leaning bird feeder. Anyway, due to heavy rains, the birdseed has sprouted!

A further negative report about the Merlin: He’s become a threat to an endangered species of Plovers nesting around the Great Lakes. Also, he feeds upon my favorite insects, dragonflies. A statue of this favored insect was given to me by a deceased, cherished friend and sits on a table overlooking the backyard. I’m thinking of moving it away from the window in case Merlin decides to make a crash landing against the sometimes-cloudy panes while we’re away this winter.

Photography by Victoria I. Sullivan

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