In Hancock County, Maine
Imagine that you’re traveling down a country road in your Subaru Outback and a drunken Bald Eagle swerves into your lane, smacking dead center into your windshield. Just before your heart attack, you’d experience a total eclipse of the windshield, with primary feathers left over on each side of the car. Stated another way, our national symbol has a wingspan of between seven and eight feet and doesn’t maneuver well.
If, on the other hand, a tipsy Merlin swerved into your lane, it probably would do a quick roll around the Subaru’s right side, and might even fly through your open passenger window to attack you. The last thing that you’d see before your heart attack would be a blur containing masked eyes, sharp beak, and extended talons. Stated another way, this falcon, once called a Pigeon Hawk, is fast, fierce, and small; it has a wingspan of between 21 and 27 inches. (Merlins often attack first and ask questions later with regard to anything that moves conspicuously while they hunt – they reportedly even chase moving automobiles and trains.
The Bald Eagle and Merlin represent virtually the polar-ends of the Raptor sizing spectrum here. They both have hooked talons and hooked beaks designed to hold and tear their prey, as do hawks, kites, owls, and other Raptors. (The term Raptor is derived from the Latin word for one who seizes and harms or robs by force.) In terms of size (the best way to start identifying a bird), the uncommon Golden Eagle sometimes is a bit larger than its bald cousin; the American Kestrel, a falcon once called a Sparrow Hawk, is somewhat smaller than its Merlin cousin. Other than Raptors’ hooks fore and aft, the Bald Eagle and Merlin are remarkably different.
One of the more remarkable characteristics of the Bald Eagle is that it takes about five years for it to grow into its name and develop its strikingly good adult looks – bright white head and tail, golden beak, topaz yellow eyes. The juvenile Bald Eagle, even when as large as an adult, is an unexceptional black-beaked brown thing that is splattered with white streaks and spots; it has dull brown eyes.
The Bald Eagle apparently prefers not to exert itself unless necessary, even at mealtime. It is quite happy eating road kill and other carrion. Its favorite fish appears to be the already-dead variety that floats slowly, although it will circle down and try to catch unsuspecting live fish and eels -- often missing the prey. This Eagle also will take injured water fowl and gulls, but does not do well catching uninjured birds.
The Merlin is not a lazy, soaring bird. With rapid beats of its wings, it conducts horizontal, high-speed attacks on its favorite zigzagging prey – other birds. It has one of the highest successful kill rates, usually catching its shrieking prey in midair. (This may not be a sight for teaching young children about the joys of birding.)
The Merlin is beautiful from the beginning. As do other falcons, it sports a mustache that droops down each side of its bill, masked eyes, brightly-streaked chest, and boldly-barred tail.
You can see a few more recent images of Bald Eagles and a Merlin by clicking the link below. We recommend that your initial screening of the images be a full-frame slideshow. (To make that happen, click on the SLIDESHOW button above the featured [largest] image on the gallery page to which the link will take you. Press Esc to return to the thumbnail gallery.) Here's the link:
Barbara and Dick
Answering Questions: Yes, there will be images of Maine’s fall colors in the end-of-month Postcards From Maine Virtual Tour.