Archive for Falcons

Merlin tiercel 1/10/18

Merlins are one of the falcons, now known to be more closely related to parrots than to other hawks. They are designed for speed and agility with long narrow wings to catch and kill smaller birds on the wing. Like most birds of prey they are sexually dimorphic with females being larger than males, an adaptation allowing a pair to better exploit prey sizes within their territory. Male falcons are called tiercels, some sources say for being roughly a third smaller than females. Merlin tiercels are also bluer winged while females are brown. Merlins are found around the Northern Hemisphere in 9 subspecies.


Peregrine Falcon female 11/25/17

Since 2008, DNA genome studies essentially reclassified all falcons as being more closely related to parrots than to other hawks. That’s just one of the more dramatic examples of how DNA is redrawing the tree of life, such that a lot of modern taxonomy is in disarray as the old relationships and classifications are being rewritten. But despite the close relationship to parrots, falcons still look and act like hawks. Peregrine Falcons have long pointed wings and a streamlined shape built for speed and surprise. They are the largest of the falcons we regularly see in New England and are the fastest animal on the plane—capable of reaching speeds over 240 mph.


American Kestrel male 5/27/16


Back in 2008 The Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago stunned the bird world with new DNA results that Falcons were more parrot than hawk. American Kestrels are the smallest of the North American falcons, smaller than a Merlin. This male would hover looking for small prey along the runway edges at Pease, and then take breaks scanning from the perimeter fences. Females have reddish wings rather than blue and are slightly larger than the robin-sized males.


Merlin 1/25/16


Falcons are hawks right? Not since 2008 when the Chicago Field Museum released its findings that based on DNA sequencing, falcons are more parrot than hawk.  When I came across this one at Seapoint, it was finishing up lunch.


Merlin female 5/7/15


She and her mate have been quite frisky atop this particular spruce which for some reason is a favorite spot for them doing it. He’s just flown off and of course I was late with the camera, but she’s still calling to him Killi, Killi, Killi! which I think roughly translates to Hop on honey! or more generally, Here I am, where are you? I’m not sure where they are nesting, farther up the highland slopes in past years, but there’s open spaces around my cabin and they are often hanging out, not to mention Hollis’s Sunflower Seed Restaurant up the road a piece has all kinds of take out.


American Kestrel male 4/9/15


American Kestrels are one of the first of the migrant hawks to arrive back in spring. It’s possible to see one during the winter months, but here edging the runways of Pease are dozens of them, newly arrived from Central America. Kestrels are small falcons found all over the world that regularly hover as a hunting technique. Males have blue-gray wings offsetting the rusty cinnamon, buffy tones, and bold facial markings, where females lack the blue gray, are more uniformly brown, less boldly marked and like most birds of prey are larger than their mates. That size difference allows a mated pair to utilize a wider range of prey sizes within their territory.


Merlin male 1/18/15


Are falcons more hawk or parrot?  In 2008, the Chicago Field Museum said rather conclusively, they are parrot. Merlins are smallish falcons found across Eurasia and the Americas. They fly fast and low, ready to turn on a dime to take a small bird by surprise. Males have blue upper sides, while females and immatures are brown.


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