[Tweeters] Merlin in Ballard backyard on 10/30/15

Barbara Deihl barbdeihl at comcast.net
Sat Oct 31 11:50:08 PDT 2015

A bird-watcher friend, Jessica, related the following falcon/prey scenario as experienced in her North Ballard backyard yesterday:

"Any idea what kind of little falcon this might be? I only saw it out my window because one of my cats started acting really odd and when I looked out the window the falcon was doing that "Dracula" pose with its wings stretched out as a vertical cape, it was pretty weird looking but I didn't have my camera yet. I got the camera, went to a closer widow and took a few photos through the window. I'm not sure what bird it caught, it had gray feathers. My flash accidentally went off on the first photo so he/she knew I was there and was watching me but I tried to hide a bit so I wouldn't scare it. I took 6 photos and then it flew off with it's lunch. "

After further email conversation and more (and larger) photos sent, I decided it was a Merlin and we decided the prey bird that the Merlin had been mantling (covering to keep from other potential 'robbers' or kleptoparasites), and feasting upon, was a European Starling.

Always attempting to determine subspecies, gender and age of Merlins, I went to my raptor books and, even though advised by one (Crossley ID Guide to Raptors by Crossley, Ligouri & Sullivan) that it is "sometimes better not to try to give subspecific status to some of these birds", echoing a similar statement by Bud Anderson, who has said something like : "just call it a Merlin". And almost all of the guides say that juvenile and 1st yr. Merlins are quite indistinguishable from adult females. So, with all these tips and finding no photographs matching the features visible in Jessica's photos, I have come up with the following terms that describe my current 'decision' as to race (subspecies), sex and age: Taiga, Black, female, 1st. yr., any of which may fit this individual !

Any thoughts on sub-species, age and sex of this magnificent Merlin? Please share any with me, either on Tweeters or off-list.

Here's the link to Jessica's photos:


Barb Deihl
Matthews Beach Neighborhood - NE Seattle
barbdeihl at comcast.net

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