First of Season Merlin – Odd Behavior and Possible Explanation

Merlin with some kind of prey out on the flatsMerlin with some kind of prey out on the flats – Nikon D500, f7.1, 1/2500, ISO 500, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

I spotted my first of the season (FOS) Merlin yesterday morning out on the flats at Farmington Bay yesterday morning and it truly delighted me.  It looked like a speck on the flats from the road but I recognized the shape of a falcon and had to stop to scope it out with my lens. The first three images on this post are of that Merlin and they are very large crops from the original files.

When I first saw the Merlin it appeared to be perched on something out on the flats and I took a few photos of it, I could make out a rock of some kind at the time but there was also something dark behind the falcon. After those few photos we left the falcon and went looking for other birds.

Merlin and pipit out on the flatsMerlin and pipit out on the flats – Nikon D500, f7.1, 1/5000, ISO 500, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

Then I saw the falcon flying but lost sight of it, then later found it out on the flats again with American Pipits all around it, some of them appeared to come within 10 feet of the Merlin. I thought that was odd because pipits are prey for these falcon.

The other odd behavior I saw was the falcon running, not fly, towards the pipits but it didn’t catch any of them. It didn’t seem like it even wanted to capture them. The flight I did see the Merlin make towards the pipits was short, I’d say 15 to 20 feet or so and then it seemed to watch the pipits and walked a bit more. I’m used to seeing Peregrine Falcons walking on the ground like that but I’d never seen a Merlin do it.

I saw little dark things blowing in the breeze when I took some of these images and it wasn’t until I got home and connected the dark looking thing in the first series of images to the little dark things blowing around enough to realize they were feathers blowing out from whatever prey there is hidden behind the rocks.

Merlin with American PipitsMerlin with American Pipits – Nikon D500, f7.1, 1/5000, ISO 500, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

I can’t see if the crop of the Merlin is full but I suspect it had filled up on whatever the mystery prey is in the first photo behind the rocks and didn’t much feel like flying after the pipits that had gotten so close. It was fun to watch the Merlin walking around on the flats and I found the behavior a bit funny, funny enough that I laughed out loud.

Merlin with prey in early morning lightMerlin with prey in early morning light – Nikon D810, f6.3, 1/640, ISO 640, +0.3 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

I’m including a photo of a Merlin I photographed in September of 2012 2014* up in the Centennial Valley of Montana that had prey, I photographed it in the early morning light which gave the whole image a golden glow. I don’t get to see Merlins in Utah during the breeding season but about this time of the year the Merlins start to migrate through, some will stay for the winter and some will continue to move further south. I’m always delighted to see these falcons and I hope the Merlin I saw yesterday hangs around so I can take better images of it than I did yesterday.

Life is good.


*I misread my file properties or something, image was actually taken in 2014


  1. Elephants Child October 13, 2017 at 1:54 pm

    I have learned to wait for them nearly as anxiously as you and Ron do…

  2. Patty Chadwick October 13, 2017 at 8:38 am

    The only Merlin I’ve seen belongs to a falconer friend, so I really appreciate seeing these images….

  3. Steven Kessel October 13, 2017 at 6:34 am

    We’re anxiously waiting for our first Merlins down here in southern Arizona. They should begin showing up in another couple of weeks. Love that 2012 image

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