Prairie Merlin

Merlin and preyMerlin and prey – Nikon D810, f7.1, 1/640, ISO 640, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

I saw a fleeting glimpse of a bird a few days ago that I suspect was a Merlin that migrated to winter here in Utah and it inspired me to post a few Merlin images today. Merlins do not breed here in Utah  but they do breed in Montana which is where I photographed this Prairie Merlin. I saw the Merlin two days in a row in the same general location and both times it was very cooperative. The second morning it had prey that appeared to be frozen so it might have been cached. It was in the low teens that morning.

Merlin in low lightMerlin in low light – Nikon D810, f7.1, 1/160, ISO 1000, -0.7 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

The first morning the light was low and there were clouds blocking the best light from the sun but I could not resist taking images since it is not every day; or even every month, that I have the opportunity to photograph this fierce little falcon. Another name for Merlins is “Pigeon Hawk” even though it is a falcon and not a hawk.

There are three different populations of Merlins and they differ in overall color, the darkness and shape of the mask, the width of the dark tail-bands and the color of their backs. This bird is the Prairie subspecies, the other two are Pacific and Taiga.

The calls of Merlins remind me of the calls of American Kestrels but they are different enough that I could tell them apart by just listening.

I hope that I will be able to photograph some Merlins this winter because not only are they handsome I also find them very interesting. It would be great to capture them on the wing as they hunt for prey.

Life is good.



  1. Utahbooklover November 2, 2014 at 12:03 pm

    The second image is my favorite. Medieval falconers called them “lady hawks,” and noblewomen used them to hunt Sky Larks. Merlin populations have largely recovered from twentieth-century declines, thanks to a ban on the pesticide DDT and their ability to adapt to life around towns and cities. []

  2. Jane Chesebrough November 2, 2014 at 11:08 am

    I enjoy hearing the call of this little raptor when they nest in the neighbourhood. It is hard on the song birds but I have seen a female catch a mouse, pretty cool when I live in the city. Nice shot.

  3. Elephant's Child November 1, 2014 at 12:18 pm

    A deceptively soft and fluffy looking charmer – and a wonderful capture.

  4. Patty Chadwick November 1, 2014 at 9:44 am


  5. Jolanta November 1, 2014 at 9:08 am

    Looks so sweet!

  6. Scott Simmons November 1, 2014 at 7:42 am

    Beautiful photos!

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