Monday, September 26, 2011

Falco columbarius

In my not so free time, I have been spending a couple days a week up at one of the two Idaho Bird Observatory raptor trapping stations. On one of the days it is quite crowded as I am participating as part of the "Applied Raptor Biology" course which is required for all Boise State University Raptor Biology students. The other day is my trapping day and if I have been assigned to the Boise Peak trapping station, then I will likely be there all day by myself. I really like Boise Peak and the solitude, but Lucky Peak tends to get more birds.

Last week while at Boise Peak by myself, I trapped my first Merlin (Falco columbarius). I had been working to trap an Adult Red-tailed Hawk which had taken an interest in my lures. He/she had been by twice, but just wouldn't commit. He/she finally landed in a tree in front of the blind and just watched as I tried everything I could to lure him/her in. Nothing worked. Then I noticed a small raptor was mobbing the Red-tailed Hawk. If the Red-tail wouldn't commit, then maybe this bird would. One quick pull on the sparrow lure and I would have my answer. In a flash the raptor turned and like a bullet hit my net. I ran out to retrieve what I must embarrassingly admit I thought was a female Sharp-shinned Hawk. No, it was none other than a Merlin! My first!

 Hatch year Merlin, Taiga subspecies (Falco columbarius columbarius)

The trappers all like to catch Merlins as they are fairly rare. They do not breed in our area, but do arrive during the fall migration and stay through the winter. We may catch a dozen or so during a season between our two trapping stations. In this areas we have the opportunity to see all three sub-species, although the Taiga sub-species is the most abundant.

Hatch year Merlin, Taiga subspecies (Falco columbarius columbarius)

Do you know how hard it is to take raptor photos by yourself?

Just two days later I was at Lucky Peak with our raptor class. Neil was trapping, but I was assisting with the sparrow. We saw a bird in the distance and Neil lured him in closer with our larger lures. As he entered the "station" (trapping area) I noticed it was a smaller raptor and pulled the sparrow. Same as before, it turned on the sparrow and hit the net at full speed. Merlin #2! Neil with the assist!  I immediately noticed that this bird was considerably darker than the first. Could it be the dark Merlin sub-species (Falco columbarius suckleyi)?

Dark Merlin??

Upon closer inspection and consultation with the IBO Research Director Jay, we determined it was still a likely Taiga subspecies, but could be a hybrid between the Taiga and Dark sub-species. The face looks dark enough, but a true Dark Merlin would not have visible stripes on its tail.

Merlin, Taiga subspecies (Falco columbarius columbarius),
possible hybrid with dark Merlin (F. c. suckleyi)

I have no complaints. While they are the same sub-species, I trapped two Merlins in three days. Not bad. There is still five weeks of trapping to go. Maybe another Merlin sub-species or higher on my wish list, a large falcon (Peregrine or Prairie). I'll keep you posted...

1 comment:

Birding is Fun! said...

One of the funnest experiences in birding was catching and banding hawks with Jay. What a blast!