On a recent hike with the Downeast Outing Club, the leaves were glowing brilliantly and the views from Eagle Bluff in Dedham were wonderful. A kestrel and a merlin flew past as we looked out at the scenery.
The kestrel was a female, with a rufous-brown back and wings. She flew south over the forest, past some cliffs, and disappeared. The kestrel is our smallest falcon, with long pointed wings and a long tail.
Merlins and kestrels are both falcons. Falcon comes from the word “falcate” which means curved like a sickle or hooked claw. These birds have sharp, curved toenails designed to hold onto prey.
I once saw a female kestrel fly over the blueberry barrens with a red squirrel in its talons. This was a large animal for a kestrel to carry. The female is larger than the male and can carry heavier prey. Male kestrels usually bring large insects like grasshoppers and crickets to feed their young. Female kestrels usually bring mice to the nest. I was amazed that a kestrel could carry a red squirrel. Perhaps it was a juvenile or small female red squirrel.
Merlins are falcons of the forest and open areas. They prey mainly on other birds. I once found a merlin nest built on a crow nest and the adult bird was chasing swallows in a nearby field.
The merlin we saw on Eagle Bluff was a female or young bird because it had a brown back and wings. A male would have been blue-gray in color. This bird was flying south but was not soaring as the American kestrel did — it was flapping more aggressively.
Jerry Smith of Orrington tells me that he watched another type of falcon, the peregrine falcon for a half-hour at the Home Depot parking lot in Bangor. Jerry is very patient and also is a hawk expert. The bird moved to different branches and looked all over to find a delicious sandpiper or duck for its dinner. No prey was caught this time.
Another friend watched a peregrine falcon in flight, chasing a spotted sandpiper over a lake. Suddenly the sandpiper dove into the water. The falcon gave up and flew away. The sandpiper surfaced and flew back to the shore. Safe again.
For information on Fields Pond Audubon Center, call 989-2591.