Urban Merlins

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ostrich
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Urban Merlins

Post by ostrich » Sat Jul 25, 2020 12:20 pm

This thread is for the discussion of merlins (falco columbarius), especially merlins in the urban environment. In many areas merlins are starting to become a more common urban raptor.

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ostrich
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Re: Urban Merlins

Post by ostrich » Tue Jul 28, 2020 7:18 pm

This year in my neighbourhood (suburban Toronto) I did not have the usual Coopers hawk breeding that has been present in the territory from 2012-2019 with the exception of 2016. This spring, although there were adult and subadult/juvenile on territory briefly, they did not

However I had been noting periodically over a period of a few weeks from around the beginning of June that I'd seen merlin in the neighbourhood, generally in flight passing by on different trajectories, mostly from spots a bit N of the park. Late spring/summer has not typically been a time I've seen merlin in the neighborhood, I had not managed to see more than one at a time for the first while, although there were tantalizing signs perhaps of there being a nearby territorial area they were active in. A number of times when seeing a passing merlin there were loud keeing vocalizations, which hinted at another individual in the territory. And on a couple of occasions I'd seen a high merlin harassing high RTs passing over the area, dive bombing or following them until they passed further away, which appeared to be territorial behavior.

By early July I finally had success finding two adults on a reasonably regular basis, surprisingly along a N-S crescent immediately north of the park. This was a solid indication of a pair, with a couple of trees halfway along the street that I could sometimes find one perch in (and a lot of mutes in the middle of the road immediately below some of the branches) indicating that perch was being used frequently.

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The female I was seeing frequently up in some tall conifers about 70m or so roughly west of the street perch, with food exchanges occurring on the perch.

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ostrich
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Re: Urban Merlins

Post by ostrich » Sat Aug 01, 2020 3:01 pm

The male and female adult merlins are reasonably distinguishable based on plumage, at least when one has a reasonably close look.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IQzPYChTveI&t=78s

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wlchShjTZB0

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tbTKV2Q_e2o

With the possibility of a nest in the area, I started making frequent observations for a couple of weeks or so, waiting near the tree on the street which was serving as an occasional perch or food transfer spot. I was hoping that after seeing one or both of them from the street, I might be guided based to possible nest spots based on where they flew from there. Especially if there were an active nest after a food transfer would be an obvious time that an adult could fly in the direction of a nest tree.

However my assumptions guiding my initial search were based on some common characteristics of merlin nests:

1) merlins tend to be extremely secretive about their nests, and often do not make them obvious from the ground.

2) merlins will strongly prefer to nest in (a) fairly high coniferous trees, (b) in a nest spot that is well hidden by relatively dense coniferous foliage, especially in a small stand that tends to hide the nest from multiple directions

3) merlins do not build their own nests, they will only reuse nests built by other birds (hawks, or especially crows or other corvids), or possibly other animals, so any nest location would have to be one where a prior nest existed.

The main initial challenge in determining a possible nest site was that there are very limited significant conifers in the neighborhood that seemed likely candidates - nearly all the larger trees in the surrounding area, including in and around the park are generally deciduous. And of the few conifers around there seemed to be very few that could have an appropriate nest structure. However the one possibility I thought perhaps barely satisfied the usual critera was about 100m away from the food transfer spot, but in a roughly N direction (so making a rough triangle between the food transfer spot on the street, the tall roosting trees about 70m roughly W, and the spot 100m north). These trees were a relatively close cluster of 3 conifers in the front yard of a house along the closest E-W street from the crescent. So I waited several times for apparent food transfers or interactions from both adults on the street and then moved as quickly as I could to a spot where I could observe those conifers in hopes of catching one definitively flying into these trees or making a food delivery. However I did not have any real luck in catching any definitive evidence of this, although I did catch the adults nearby on a couple of occasions.

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I was finally able to make a breakthrough on 07/10, when I stumbled upon the nest tree after talking to a couple of residents on the street, the actual nest was no more than about another 10 or 15 yards further along the street all along. I had missed this nest because I hadn't though to look closely at it as it was nothing like the type of nest tree I was expecting. The nest was in a deciduous tree, not a conifer, the nest itself was quite low, perhaps only about 30ft or so off the ground, and it was fairly visible, and not significantly hidden. According to residents the nest had been previously used by squirrels, although it looked to be a mainly stick type nest so unclear if squirrels originally built it.

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The most exciting part of the identified nest was that there were already nestlings;

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lUUCkJIkZ3w

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2LzsXAKaws

ostrich
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Re: Urban Merlins

Post by ostrich » Sun Aug 02, 2020 12:50 pm

After identifying the nest, it was evident fairly quickly that there were at least 3 nestlings probably at least a couple of weeks old, with some definite pin feather development but with lots of down still retained. It was now much easier to catch the sequence of food deliveries, often with the male showing up at the food transfer tree and doing an exchange with the female. But often there seemed to be quite a bit of movement by one or more adults around the exchanges, often not directly to the nest so it was not always evident who was eventually flying food there.

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By about July 18 there was significant development in the nestlings and loss of down.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mcMCftUeRpA

With pretty quick development, the merlin nestlings did not seem to have nearly the sort of prolonged gradual branching and flying process that the hawks did, by July 21 there was at least one definite fledging to the food transfer tree, as well as branching outside the nest. Once branching started it was possible to confirm 4 nestlings as opposed to 3.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNPOGmuumTo

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RGyHqHeTKJg

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ostrich
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Re: Urban Merlins

Post by ostrich » Sun Aug 02, 2020 1:16 pm

Progress of the nestlings off of the tree was quite rapid, July 24 I caught a rather interesting sequence between (I believe) the adult male and one of the nestlings, after the male arrived with a prey item;

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A larger fledgling (which would certainly seem to suggest female) approached undoubtedly interested in the food:

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The fledgling definitely appeared to attempt to grab the food;

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However, subsequent to the fledgling grabbing the prey, it seemed like the male tried to regain possession:

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However finally the male appeared to take back possession and move to a different spot with it. Perhaps this was some sort of teaching to a fledgling on taking possession of prey?

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The activity of the fledglings has also provided good opportunities for footage, they are so vocal, especially when sighting adults or with potential food deliveries that they are easier to find, although not always to follow when they start moving around.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oNq43NNagEU

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a9N4XUAtoz4

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1D91C5C14vg

ostrich
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Re: Urban Merlins

Post by ostrich » Sun Aug 02, 2020 1:53 pm

The fledglings have tended to remain in and around the street, often using some of these same perches but gradually moving around the surrounding backyards as well, and these have provided lots of pretty good opportunities to get close looks at the juveniles:

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I've also caught occasional interesting interactions between the juveniles - on a couple of occasions I've seen two together with close beak to beak interaction, this was evident on prairie merlin cam which was recently active. It seemed like either there was some actual feeding of one to another or possibly one that was feeding just had some bits of food still in the beak that the other was attempting to grab.

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z8Au7iieFVw

With the gradual expanding of their movements, I'd caught some early evening moving around by fledglings, getting far enough to reach the NE corner of the park and backyards behind, so probably a total of approx 200m from the nest tree, July 30.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x5m1Dvzhylc

ostrich
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Re: Urban Merlins

Post by ostrich » Sun Aug 02, 2020 2:03 pm

July 31; there was quite a bit of activity and antics from the juveniles in the morning;

I believe it was the adult male who landed on top of the conifer E of the street (which was a common perch for him) but holding a prey item that appeared likely to be a female house sparrow. In response one of the juveniles came right in and claimed the item. The fact the prey was not deplumed seemed to indicate the parents have probably progressed to providing un-deplumed prey so that the juveniles have to do this themselves and learn this skill.

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There appeared to be more than one juvenile moving around at different points, perhaps with different prey items so it wasn't entirely clear who was who. But one ended up on rooftop with what may have been the sparrow:

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One of the siblings approached and an interaction over the prey item began:

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This juvenile had a prey item on top of one of the street light poles, this may be a different prey but also looked somewhat sparrow like:

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ostrich
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Re: Urban Merlins

Post by ostrich » Sun Aug 02, 2020 2:05 pm

Some additional good close looks at the juveniles from July 31:

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