[Tweeters] Talon-locking and Cartwheeling in Raptors

Barbara Deihl barbdeihl at comcast.net
Wed Feb 6 07:16:45 PST 2013

A "Merlin Watcher" from one of the Seattle-area Merlin sites I've monitored over the past few years, just wrote me that she witnessed 2 Merlins do a "spiral dive with talons locked" down towards her neighbors' yard. Upon checking the yard, she didn't see them there, but said their vocalizations soon started up again. She had first noted the two "darting around and being very vocal", which is usual for Merlins at the start of and during the breeding season. Merlins have already been starting up their courtship - vocalization is a key sign of this and one of the first things noted by "Merliners", as well as by any other earred beings! Later in the season, this vocalization can be quite provocative and, to some, rather annoying, depending on one's proximity to and fascination with the loud "kee"s, chitters and incessant begging wails.

As I have only seen Bald Eagles talon-locking and cartwheeling, I was curious about these behaviors and the reasons raptors might engage in them - I asked some birders I know, and got a couple responses, both of which indicated that it can be part of courtship behavior and also can occur interspecifically between raptors, as a form of combat. One person sent me this list of articles on the subject (link below) - just from the titles I see that talon-grappling, is a fairly common behavior and that Merlins do indeed practice it. I have seen Merlins do aerial prey transfers, which involve talon usage, but not exactly talon-locking.

If any of you care to share interesting or pertinent information or experiences with any of these types of behaviors, or have a favorite video or 2 featuring any mid-air grappling or cartwheeling raptors, I would be appreciative of your relating or relaying such treasures either to me off-list, or to all here on Tweeters.

Than'kee'you !


Barb Deihl

North Matthews Beach - NE Seattle

barbdeihl at comcast.net

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