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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

BirdNote®: Here Come the Merlins

Air Date: Week of October 20, 2017

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The Merlin may be small, but it packs a serious punch. In Medieval times, nobility used the bird to hunt sky larks. (Photo: Greg Thompson)

The Merlin is one of the world’s smallest falcons yet it’s something of a trailblazer. Rising global temperatures are forcing species to head north, but as BirdNote®’s Mary McCann reports, these adaptive predators have begun to move south to occupy the abandoned homes of other avian migrants.

Transcript

[MUSIC: BIRDNOTE® THEME]

CURWOOD: They are tiny birds, but tough ones.

And they are flying against the trend of wildlife moving toward the poles as the planet warms, as Mary McCann tells us in today’s BirdNote®.

[BirdNote®]
Here Come the Merlins

[Merlin calling, https://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/197047, 0.19-.22]

MCCANN: Want to see one of the blazing thunderbolts of the bird world? Smaller than a pigeon — but fierce enough to knock one from the air — are the powerful, compact falcons known as Merlins.
While global climate change is pushing ranges of many birds farther north, Merlins are actually expanding southward.


The Merlin’s migratory patterns actually run counter to the direction of rising temperatures. Scientists have found that these small predators are nesting further south, even as most birds are moving north. (Photo: Gregg Thompson)

Merlins nest in northern forests around the world. But in recent years, more and more Merlins have been nesting farther south, in towns and cities across the northern United States. These small falcons will take over old crow nests, especially in conifer trees — in parks, cemeteries, and neighborhoods.

[Merlin calling, https://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/197047, 0.19-.22]

No one knows precisely why, but part of the answer may lie in a rebound of Merlin populations since the banning of pesticides like DDT. And it’s a reminder that bird behavior may be more flexible than we sometimes imagine.

[Merlin call, https://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/105837, 0.15-.17]
Merlins reach their peak southward migration in October. Although some, like those in the Pacific Northwest, remain year round, most scatter to the south for winter. Some travel as far as Ecuador.
With any luck, you might see these adaptable, pint-sized thunderbolts in your neighborhood.

[Merlin call, https://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/105837, 0.15-.17]

###
Written by Bob Sundstrom
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by Bob McGuire and Geoffrey A Keller.
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Managing Producer: Jason Saul
Associate Producer: Ellen Blackstone
© 2017 Tune In to Nature.org October 2017 Narrator: Mary McCann

Sources: http://www.hawkmountain.org/raptorpedia/hawks-at-hawk-mountain/hawk-species-at-hawk-mountain/merlin/page.aspx?id=503
http://www.fllt.org/the-mysterious-merlin/
https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Merlin/lifehistory

http://birdnote.org/show/here-come-merlins

 

Links

The “Here Come the Merlins” story on the BirdNote® website

About the Merlin from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

 

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