Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Merlins and Kestrels
The weather here is socked in with fog and drizzle. We walked out on our hayfield, which was recently cut and baled, the nesting Bobolinks and American Bittern having safely fledged. We birded the area and saw 4 American Kestrels, some hunting from the hay bales, and 2 Merlins flying around the field. These hawks were not migrating much due to the inclement weather. What a treat to see these falcons. At one point a Merlin was chasing 2 Kestrels. It's a nice warm up to the hawk-watching spectacle to come. We think Thursday will be a good hawk-watching day in the Northeast because a front is coming through on Wed. Thursday will be clear and sunny with mild northwest winds, just the conditions hawks like for migration.
We ID many flying hawks by their shapes first, since you often cannot see colors or markings on hawks at a distance. The backlit Merlin photo wonderfully shows its shape: the moderately long, strongly-tapered wings; the broad head and short neck; a relatively short tail.
Compare the Merlin shape to the Kestrel shape. Note that the American Kestrel has long, narrow, pointed and strongly tapered wings and a long tail. In general, the greatest width of the wing on a Kestrel will be shorter than the length of its tail (measured from the base of its wings to the tip of the tail), and on a Merlin, the greatest width of the wing will approximately be greater than the length of its tail. Merlin vs. Kestrel is an ID challenge for birders when hawk-watching. These clues will help.
Plan on going hawk-watching Thursday if you can. It's a good bet you'll see some hawks. Go to one of the many official hawk-watch sites, or just find any high spot, of ground, or a building, where you have a clear view of the northwest and scan the sky. Hawks will fly from early to late, but most are seen between about 9:30 am to 4:30 pm.