Mainers spy 3 types of falcons: kestrel, merlin, peregrine

Posted Nov. 08, 2010, at 2:51 p.m.
Last modified Dec. 10, 2010, at 2:53 p.m.

On a recent hike with the Downeast Outing Club, we saw that the leaves were glowing brilliantly and the views from Eagle Bluff in Dedham were wonderful. Both a kestrel and a merlin flew past as we looked out at the scenery.

The kestrel was a female with 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 falcons. Falcon comes from the word “falcate,” which means curved like a sickle or hooked claw. These birds have sharp, curved toenails that are well-suited to hold on to 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 such as 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. This bird was flying south but was not soaring as the American kestrel did, but rather 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 a hawk expert.)

The bird moved to different branches and looked everywhere 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 dived into the water. The falcon gave up and flew away. The sandpiper surfaced and flew back to the shore. Safe again.

At Fields Pond Audubon Center in Holden, join Bill Livingston from the University of Maine’s School of Forest Resources for a workshop in winter tree identification.

Enjoy a walk and talk session devoted to trees surrounding the center. We’ll come inside to warm up and share more discussion.

The workshop is set for 9-11 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 13. The cost is $10 for members, $13 for others. Advance registration is required.

For information on Fields Pond Audubon Center, call 989-2591.

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