Thursday, October 6, 2011

Black Bullet

MerlinMerlin, Forest Grove, Oregon, 29 September 2011 by Greg Gillson.


Last week I was able to get a couple of decent photos of a Merlin. These birds tend to be wary and speedy!

While superficially the size and shape of an American Kestrel, in flight the Merlin is a race car to the Kestrel's moped. The Merlin never hovers!

Merlins tend to favor open country where they often hunt from low perches. Even migration is low and direct--hugging the terrain, just over the shrub-tops. When they see their prey (usually other small birds or dragonflies) they pursue in quick, direct flight. They then may take their prey to a perch (top of a telephone pole or fence post in open country) to pluck and eat.


MerlinMerlin, Forest Grove, Oregon, 29 September 2011 by Greg Gillson.


This particular bird is the subspecies suckleyi, formerly called the Black Pigeon Hawk. It is very dark--and heavily streaked below. This race breeds in British Columbia and winters along the coast to southern California.

I have noted this species chasing shorebirds in coastal estuaries and Pine Siskins over coastal sitka spruce forests. Once I noted a flock of Bushtits flying (crawling through the air) over the beach at the south jetty of the Columbia River. Silly birds. A Merlin flew leisurely (for a Merlin) and snatched a Bushtit out of the air without breaking stride.

Other races of Merlins are found September through April in the Pacific Northwest. The Prairie race (richardsonii) is very pale blue-gray, females pale tannish-gray. The northern taiga form (columbarius) is intermediate (see The Sibley Guide to Birds ).


  1. Wow, great photos! I have yet to find a Merlin anywhere though I've tried to turn numerous ketrels into Merlins...

  2. Nice shots and good info! I was fortunate enough to see three at separate locations last year during the window that they hunt shorebirds here (Oregon Coast) - someone pointed out that it was because I was hunting shorebirds in their territory :o) They are amazing birds to watch.

  3. wonderful captures. A bird I hope to get closer looks like this someday.


  4. Fantastic photos Greg! Merlins have a special place in my heart because it was the first "rare" bird I found myself in AZ. But I've never been able to get close enough for a photo, they're very shy.

  5. Keep looking, Jen. From now through November they move through, and some will spend the winter.

    That's probably true, Dawn. Shorebird flats provide numerous snacks for the Merlin, Peregrine too!

    Thanks for the comments Dan and Jeremy. This bird is always a highlight, even though I see 3-6 per year, generally.