Death on a Stick

(Burrowing Owl Update Below)

Merlin (Falco columbarius)

Sparrows, finches and similar small birds in the northwest quadrant of the park needed to take cover while this Merlin perched nearby. A plastic pipe that marked an Extraction Well (“EW”) that forms part of the landfill gas system served as the bird’s vantage point until a park visitor passing nearby flushed it and it took off toward the west. Merlins are ferocious raptors that need to kill and eat an average of two small birds a day to maintain their body weight. Their prime targets weigh up to about 50 grams, about the size of sparrows and other small songbirds. (The Burrowing Owl, at 120-160 grams, would ordinarily be too much for it.) Merlins generally catch their prey in flight. They’ll also kill and eat big moths, dragonflies, tiny mammals, and snakes, if the opportunity presents itself. In the past few decades, Merlins have moved into cities, adapting to human noise and density to take advantage of the abundance of target birds. When they catch a bird, they typically rip off the head, wings, and legs, and devour the body, leaving a bloody mess of scattered feathers and body parts. If they catch more than they can immediately eat, they will store their kill up in trees, often forgetting the location. As hunters, they are extremely fast and deadly. Considered “lady’s hawks” because of their small size, they were, and to some extent still are, captured and trained by falconers as sport birds.

These Merlin images date from December 16. They got temporarily lost in my database of >50,000 images. I haven’t seen this bird since that day.

Burrowing Owl Update

This morning, January 6, looked unremarkable and uneventful in the life of the Burrowing Owl, at least at the time of my visit. The bird continued to stand in Perch B, near the big Fennel bush, where park visitors could (and several did) see it with unaided eyes. One couple told me that they were thrilled; they had always wanted to see one but until just now, never had.

Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) Jan 6 2023

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