Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahama Palm Shores (Keith Salvesen)

Abaco (Cuban) Parrot, Bahama Palm Shores (Keith Salvesen)


South Abaco – the tract of land south of Marsh Harbour – has some of the richest birding in the Bahamas. Besides 4 of the 5 Bahamas ENDEMIC SPECIES, it contains some of the most interesting speciality birds. The unique ABACO PARROT for a start, with a population that is gradually increasing following a drastic decline and conservation intervention. Rare PIPING PLOVERS on the eastern shores that overwinter, as do the endangered KIRTLAND’S WARBLERS, of which more soon. In the Bahamas the WEST INDIAN WOODPECKER is common on Abaco, but elsewhere it is rare on San Salvador and is no longer found on Grand Bahama (missing, presumed extirpated). If you want to learn more about them and their engaging ways read Caroline Stahala’s fascinating article HERE
Olive-capped Warbler, Abaco (Bruce Hallett)

Olive-capped Warbler, one of 5 permanent resident warblers (of 37 species in all) Bruce Hallett

January was an excellent time for the Hope Town Birding Group to take the ferry over for a quality day of birding on south Abaco. In all, 44 species were identified, ranging from expected feathery denizens to what are sometimes described as ‘Good Gets’. The group was led by Bruce Wolck. Jan Metcalf contacted me to arrange for Delphi – a notable birding hotspot – to be on the itinerary. And as she wrote to me afterwards in summing up the day:
“Amazing birds, amazing day, amazing Delphi (where we saw the Bullfinch)”
Sally Chisholm has since emailed that among places visited were the “[town] dump, locations along the highway south to the Y, Sandy Point, the south ferry dock, Gilpin Point, Bahama Palm Shores and Delphi” I’ve never been to the dock, so that’s one for us to try out in March…
Here is the group’s checklist of the 44 species. I have added thumbnail images, almost all taken on Abaco by contributors to THE DELPHI CLUB GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF ABACO, including some used in the book. “Good Gets” include the Pied-billed Grebe, a permanent resident but quite scarce; the Bonaparte’s Gull; the Great Black-backed Gull; and the White Ibis. The last 3 are what are termed ‘casual’ winter residents – rarely seen and so irregularly reported.
CLICK on a thumbnail to enlarge it. That’s the idea anyway, but I’m a bit ‘casual’ myself in checking links. The ones I spot-checked worked so I am hoping for the best with the remainder…
Pied-billed- Grebe Podilymbus podiceps (Wiki)Pied-billed Grebe
Pelican Sandy Point Abaco (Keith Salvesen)Brown Pelican
Magnificent Frigate male wikipicsMagnificent Frigatebird
Great_Blue_Heron_Wading_2Great Blue Heron 
Great Egret Abaco - Treasure Cay Ponds (Keith Salvesen)Great Egret
Little Blue Heron, Abaco - Bruce HallettLittle Blue Heron
Cattle Egret, Sandy Point, Abaco - Keith SalvesenCattle Egret
Green Heron, Abaco - Treasure Cay GC - Charlie SkinnerGreen Heron
White Ibis, Treasure Cay Abaco - Kasia ReidWhite Ibis
White-cheeked Pintail, Abaco - Gilpin Pond - Keith SalvesenWhite-cheeked Pintail
Turkey Vulture Abaco - Delphi  (Keith Salvesen)Turkey Vulture
Red-tailed Hawk Abaco - Bruce HallettRed-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel Abaco - Sandy Point - Keith SalvesenAmerican Kestrel
1009BlackBelliedPloverBlack-bellied Plover
American Oystercatcher Abaco -  Jim ToddAmerican Oystercatcher
Willet.Abaco Bahamas.2.13.Tom Sheley smallWillet
Ruddy Turnstone winter plumage.Abaco Bahamas.2.13.Tom Sheley eRuddy Turnstone
Laughing Gull, Abaco - Nina HenryLaughing Gull
Bonaparte's Gull (Ad NB), Abaco - Bruce HallettBonaparte’s Gull
Ring-billed Gull, Abaco (Nina Henry : DCB)Ring-billed Gull
800px-Great_Black-backed_Gull_Larus_marinusGreat Black-backed Gull
Rock_Dove_close-upRock Dove
Eurasian Collared Dove, Abaco - Bruce HallettEurasian Collard Dove
Ground Dove, Abaco -Nina Henry Common Ground Dove
ABACO (CUBAN) PARROT, Abaco (Caroline Stahala)Cuban Parrot
Smooth-billed Ani, Abaco - Roselyn PierceSmooth-billed Ani
Cuban Emerald, Delphi, Abaco - Keith SalvesenCuban Emerald
800px-Belted_Kingfisher_with_preyBelted Kingfisher
800px-West_Indian_Woodpecker_(Melanerpes_superciliaris)West Indian Woodpecker
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Abaco Bahamas 2.12.Tom SheleyYellow-bellied Sapsucker
Cuban Pewee Abaco - Casuarina - Keith SalvesenCuban Peewee
La Sagra's Flycatcher - Delphi,  Abaco - Keith SalvesenLa Sagra’s Flycatcher
Loggerhead Kingbird, Abaco - Peter Mantle Loggerhead Kingbird
Bahama Swallow, Abaco - Craig NashBahama Swallow
Red-legged Thrush, Delphi,  Abaco - Keith SalvesenRed-legged Thrush
Northern Mockingbird, Delph, Abaco  - Keith SalvesenNorthern Mockingbird
Thick-billed Vireo, Abaco (Craig Nash)Thick-billed Vireo
Northern Parula, Abaco - Craig NashNorthern Parula
Yellow-throated Warbler, Abaco - Bruce HallettYellow-throated Warbler
Olive-capped Warbler, Abaco - Bruce HallettOlive-capped Warbler
Pine Warbler, AbacoPine Warbler
Western Spindalis, Abaco - Bruce HallettStripe-headed Tanager

Black-faced Grassquit (m), Abaco - Bruce HallettBlack-faced Grassquit
Greater Antillean Bullfinch, Abaco - Tony HepburnGreater Antillian Bullfinch
If any Birding Groups are interested in birding the one-mile drives (wonderful pine and coppice habitats), gardens and one-mile white sand beach at Delphi, let me know. It can easily be arranged, but there are times when it is not convenient or that some areas are not open for access. Email me as first contact at rollingharbour.delphi[AT]gmail.com
Western Spindalis Abaco (Keith Salvesen)

Western Spindalis, Abaco -Delphi Club Drive (Keith Salvesen)


Short-billed Dowitcher, Abaco (Bruce Hallett) DOWITCHERS FOR ABACO TWITCHERS


Long-billed (Limnodromus scolopaceus)? Or Short-billed (Limnodromus griseus)? Which one is that over there? No, not there. There! For Abaco, the answer is very easy. The SBD is a common winter resident, whereas the LBD is an occasional casual visitor, recorded rarely and irregularly in the Northern Bahamas. So if you are looking at a Dowitcher, it’s 98% certain that’s it’s an SBD. Which is lucky – they are so similar that telling them apart is a complex ID challenge, even if seen together! Until 60 years ago they happily existed as one species until the avian powers-that-be decided to prise them apart and award them separate species status. All the birds featured here are Abaco SDBs, with one exception… More on the comparisons and differences below.

The Dowitcher’s bill is an extremely effective instrument for probing deep into low water and mud. The rapid stabbing for concealed invertebrates has been vividly described as being ‘like a sewing-machine’. A ‘Dowitcher Stitcher’. So to speak.Short-billed Dowitcher, Abaco 2 (Bruce Hallett)


I had assumed that the strange name for these birds was onomatopoeic, in the same way that a Killdeer is supposed to call “Kill…Deer”. And a Bobwhite, an interrogative “Bob…White?”. When I tried to check this online, I found that the usually valuable primary sources for bird info were silent on the topic. In the end, I tracked down a Merriam Webster entry that simply said “probably of Iroquoian origin; akin to Oneida tawístawis. First Known Use: 1841″. Which left me better informed, but no wiser…

Short-billed Dowitcher2.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley


 Phoenix Birder / Xeno Canto

In the header image, the bird is foraging in shallow water. In deeper water or with softer mud, SBDs will plunge their bills in to the hilt

Short-billed Dowitchers, Abaco -  Bruce Hallett



  • On Abaco, if you see a Dowitcher the overwhelming likelihood is that it’s a SBD
  • The species prefer different habitats, with the LBS preferring freshwater even in coastal regions
  • The SBD prefers coastal areas, shorelines and brackish / muddy ponds
  • The SBD’s call is said to be “mellower” than the LDB – though unless you have heard both for comparison, that’s not a very useful identifier.
  • The body shapes are apparently subtly different, in ways I personally can only begin to guess
  • In breeding plumage, the species have perceptible colour / pattern differences. (If you have binoculars?)
  • LBDs may occasionally join SBDs that are foraging on open tidal flats
  • Actual bill length may not help, there’s an overlap – some SBDs may have longer bills and vice versa.
  • There are theories about bill-length / head size comparison as a field ID method. Do they work? As if!
  • Winter plumage of both species is very similar (grey). Both are only on Abaco in winter. Go figure.

Short-billed Dowitcher, Abaco 1 Bruce Hallett


Yes! In Scrabble you can form a stonking 315 words from those 9 letters, all permitted under Scrabble rules (though not my own house rules, which forbid ridiculous 2 and 3 letter words that sound invented for the purpose of winning Scrabble). Apart from the full 9 letter original, there’s one 8 letter word – ‘witherod’, a type of viburnum plant; and 13 words of 7 letters, of which I’d say 8 are in common though not everyday usage. I’ll leave you to work out the remaining 301 words…

Short-billed Dowitcher.Abaco Bahamas.Tom Sheley


I surely do. Woody Bracey photographed a pair of dowitchers together on Abaco, one SBD and one LBD. But even though this looks a pretty straightforward comparison of bill length, colouring and marking, by now I’m now so confused that I’m beginning to wish the two species could be happily reunited into one…Long & Short Billed Dowitchers, Abaco Woody Bracey

 Credits: Bruce Hallett, Tom Sheley, Woody Bracey, past researches, the usual bird info suspects


Masked Boobies, Norfolk Island  (Steve Daggar - Wikimedia)


Hot avian news has arrived today from Woody Bracey: the 4th brand new species recorded for Abaco within the last 12 months has just been sighted in Abaco waters, north of Great Guana Cay. It was a single Masked Booby (Sula dactylatra), a large seabird also known as a Masked Gannet (and it certainly looks quite gannet-like). [NB the photos in this post are obviously not of the new bird, but are illustrative of the species]

Masked booby & chick (Duncan Wright Wikimedia)


Date: Wed Jan 21, 2015 10:00 AM

Location: Deep Sea 2-15 miles off Great Guana Cay, Central Abaco, Hope Town and Green Turtle Cay, BS

Protocols: traveling – party size 2 – duration 6 hours – distance 30.0 miles

Observers: Karl Kleim and Kim Kuhnle; Reporter via Ebird, Elwood Bracey

Description:  Single Masked Booby “Large white bird sitting on the sea with a yellow-greenish bill and no yellow on the head, then flew a few 100 yards showing the black trailing edge to the wings and wingtips and tail. Adult female.”

Masked Booby Sighting Map 1 jpg      Masked Booby Sighting Map 2

Masked Booby Sula dactylatra (Drew Avery / Amada44 Wikimedia)


  • First described by A French naturalist in 1831
  • One of six species of booby in the ‘Booby’ genus Sula 
  • The largest Booby species
  • The only other Booby species recorded for Abaco is the Brown Booby
  • The closest breeding populations to Abaco are off Mexico and southern Caribbean
  • Silent at sea, whistling greeting call in nesting colonies plus a repertoire of ‘hissing and quacking’
  • Spectacular diving abilities
  • 2 eggs are laid: very often the first chick to hatch kills the second (“Siblicide”)

Masked_Booby_Chick by Pauk (Wiki)

The wingspan of an adult Masked Booby can exceed 5 feetMasked_Booby_(Sula_dactylatra) by Drew Avery

Here’s looking at you…Masked Booby (SuperStock) jpg


and before that, a hugely exciting seabird find

Credits: Steve Daggar, Duncan Wright, Drew Avery, Pauk, Superstock, Wiki images & open source


Bahamas van Keulen Map 1728

Bahamas Map – Van Keulen – 1728


I am probably the last person to twig the topological significance of Abaco’s location in the world. An email tipping me off about a TV programme led me to investigate further. There turn out to be 3 ways in which Abaco’s position in the Atlantic Ocean is of special interest. Two are geographic fact; and one is located in the grey area between myth and putative evidence-based supposition (if such a nebulous concept exists…). If everyone knew this already, sorry for being so late into the game. But you get some nice maps to look at, gratis, like the wonderful van Keulen map of 1728 above. About the only marked location on Abaco is ‘Hole Rok’ (now ‘GAP ROK’). For a history of Hole-in-the-Wall in historic maps, click HERE


Until the recent email, I hadn’t taken on board that Abaco is within the Bermuda Triangle. The island and its cays are contained snugly into the 60º tip of the western angle of an equilateral triangle based on Bermuda, Miami and Puerto Rico. The NOAA map below could not be clearer: Abaco is squarely within the triangle, if that is geometrically possible.

Bermuda triangle map NOAA / Google

I wrestled with whether to write an earnest discourse along the lines “Towards a Greater Understanding of Triangle Phenomenology”. Then I thought, Nah! If it’s a myth, what’s the point in examining its credibility. If it’s all true, I would’t want to worry you more than I already have by mentioning it… So you can do the hard graft if you wish by checking out the links below. Or you can just move on to section 2. Or relax in the sun, go fishing, find some nice birds, or have a Kalik or 3. 

THE WIKI ANGLE Excellent potted overview dealing with supposed position, the main ‘unexplained disappearances’, and the possible causes of these – both natural and supernatural. Frankly, this should do it for all but the most persistent, who probably are more widely informed already. 

SCIENCE CHANNEL The top ten Bermuda Triangle theories. Note: may not include your own pet theory of aliens from Planet Tharkron with their Pukotic Missile Rays

HISTORY.COM Comes complete with spooky-music video presentation. NB blurb nails its colours to the mast by using words like ‘Mythical’ and ‘Fanciful’ so if you are a believer you won’t want to go here, I suspect.

TEN WEIRD FACTS An informative video for those who want a bit more sensation.


great+atlantic sandiego.surfrider

Rowing through the Great Atlantic Garbage Patch (sandiego.surfrider)

Abaco also finds itself at the western edge of the Northern Atlantic Gyre. Strictly speaking the Gyre comprises a combination of  four main currents: the Gulf Stream in the west, the North Atlantic Current in the north, the Canary Current in the east, and the Atlantic North Equatorial Current in the south. It is not synonymous with the infamous North Atlantic Garbage Patch, which is contained within the geographical boundaries of the Gyre. The top image gives a broad-brush idea of  the central area of concentration of the Garbage Patch within the Gyre. Abaco looks to be well clear of trouble. But don’t be too optimistic.


North Atlantic Garbage Patch (12Degreesoffreedom)

Looking at various sources, there is some variation in the precise boundaries of the Gyre, though Abaco is plainly within it. Q: is it safely beyond the edges of the plastic peril? A: as any resident will know, the naturally pristine beaches tell a tale of constant plastic and other debris brought in on the high tide almost daily. The incidence depends to an extent on weather and wind direction, but the overall picture is of a relentless intrusion of rubbish on golden and white sand expanses. There is an extent to which what the tide giveth, the tide taketh away; and of course many beaches are scrupulously kept clean. NB I’m not trying to propagate anti-visitor publicity – many people will have experienced the same situation elsewhere. 

North Atlantic Gyre Garbage Patch wired_com

North Atlantic Gyre Garbage Patch (wired.com)

The research map above shows that, although the garbage hotspots and warmspots are well away from Abaco, the ever-widening circulating soup of plastic, rubber and metal has reached the island. Abaco is in the pale blue zone. Yellow is not that far off. Imagine what the orange or red areas must be like. This sort of thing:

garbage patch mail.colonial.nte

In some places the junk stacks up to form islands with hills


Texas has become a standard ‘unit’ for large area comparisons. I notice that several sources describe the main area of the NA Garbage Patch in terms of Texas. But how big is that (BIG!)? To get an idea, I created a map overlaying Texas on an area centred on the Bahamas. So, Texas is this big… 

Texas / Bahamas size comparison

I’ve got more about some very specific rubbish to discuss another time, so I’ll leave you with the most interesting piece of marine debris to wash up on the Delphi Beach, a 12 ft ROCKET FAIRING from the Mars ‘Curiosity’ launch! Click link for more details. Rocket Fairing - Mars -Curiosity Launch - Beach Debris - Delphi Club Abaco


The Sargasso Sea is named for the SARGASSUM seaweed found in large concentrations in the area. Columbus was the first person to sail right across the Sea, in 1492 (well, he and the crews of his 3 ships Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria). He noted the large areas of seaweed that his expedition’s ships had to plough through. Eventually he made landfall on San Salvador, Bahamas.

This fine Krümmel map from 1891 shows the extent of the sea, and you’ll see that its western fringes reach the ocean side of Abaco. Have you seen the seaweed pictured below the map? That’s Sargassum.

1891 Sargasso See - Krummel

Sargasso See Map – Krummel -1891

 A close-up of Sargassum – maybe it washes up on a beach near you…Sargassum_on_the_beach,_Cuba Bogdan Giușcă
  • Jean Rhys’s famous 1966 novel ‘The Wide Sargasso Sea’ is actually set in Jamaica (nb the Sea is mentioned!)
  • The Sargasso is the only ‘Sea’ to have no land boundary, being entirely in the Atlantic Ocean
  • It is vital to mass migrations of eels, where they lay their eggs
  • Young loggerhead turtles are believed to head for the Sea for seaweed protection while they grow
  • Much of the debris trapped in the NA Garbage Patch is in the Sargasso, and is non-biodegradable plastic
  • The Sea is protected by Commission established in 2014 involving at present 5 countries, including (unbelievably) Monaco, the second smallest country in the world at 0.75 sq miles. Green Turtle Cay is about twice the area!
  • Cultural references include the track “Wide Sargasso Sea” on Stevie Nick’s “In Your Dreams” (2011)
  • There are loads of other literary & musical references but I lost the will to pursue them when I saw the inclusion of ‘Dungeons & Dragons’

If you want to find out more about Jean Rhys’s novel, read it or click HERE



While writing this post I have had a song thrumming annoyingly inside my head. It’s ‘Bermuda Triangle’, with its coyly rhyming ‘look at it from my angle’. Now it’ll be inside your head too! I couldn’t remember who it sang it. Rupert Holmes? No, that was the egregious “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” (1979). Ah yes. Barry Manilow. Bazza Mazza. The Bazzman. As you’ve finished with the maps etc, here’s a musical memory with a counterbalance of the Stevie Nicks song mentioned earlier…

Those cover the Triangle and the Sargasso; what of the Garbage? Try some Fresh Garbage from Spirit…

OPTIONAL MUSICAL NOTES Randy California’s fingerpicked intro to ‘TAURUS‘ is remarkably similar to the later, far more famous guitar work of Jimmy Page’s intro to ‘STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN‘. And Spirit happened to tour with the early Led Zep. Legal action was commenced last year for copyright infringement, as yet unresolved… You be the Judge!

Credits: As credited above; open source; NOAA; mail.colonial; telegraph.co.uk; Sandy Walker; Bogdan Giușcă, Youtube self-credited; Wiki; Random Researches and Magpie Map & Fact pickings


Green Heron eating fish (Binkie van Es)


The Green Heron Butorides virescens is one of 6 heron species found on Abaco. I wrote a detailed post about them last summer HERE, with some wonderful Abaco images (none taken by me…). Since then, I got in touch with Binkie van Es, who had photographed the increasingly rare Bahama Oriole on Andros. Small areas of  the island are the last remaining habitat of a lovely bird that until recently was one of Abaco’s prized endemics. You can see some excellent pictures of them HERE (none mine either!) and read the sad story of their population decline towards extinction.

Binkie kindly gave use permission for some of his other photos. I especially like this sequence of a green heron getting more than he bargained for in his choice of lunch. In the end greed overcomes a formidably large snack, but it’s a hard one to swallow…

I caught me a handsome fish to take to my dining areaGreen Heron eating fish (Binkie van Es)

Think this ain’t going to be easy? Just you watch!Green Heron eating fish (Binkie van Es)

See? I just sort of slurp it in like… so. Practice makes perfect.
Green Heron eating fish (Binkie van Es)

Busy… can’t really talk right nowGreen Heron eating fish (Binkie van Es)

Nmmpphh Grfffffff Mmpphphphph Rmmmmmmmph!Green Heron eating fish (Binkie van Es)

Ulppppp! Green Heron eating fish (Binkie van Es)

No Green Heron was harmed in the photographing of this sequence. Sadly I can’t say the same for the fish, which despite its size had met its match… 

Credits: All photos Binkie van Es, with thanks


Tm_Gina&JJWest Indian Manatee mother & calf, Bahamas - Gina & JJ

Manatee Gina with her weaned calf JJ


Last year held hopes of a joyous reunion – and indeed union – in Abaco waters between young manatees Randy and Georgie. He had taken the trip from the Berry Is., around the top of Abaco and down the east coast as far at Little Harbour. She lives in Cherokee. Tantalisingly close. But then Randy retraced his steps as far as Gorda Cay and hopes for the production of Abaco’s first manatee calf (at least, in living / recorded memory) turned to seagrass mulch. The poignant story and some great manatee close-up photos (including a ‘selfie’ of sorts on a Go-Pro) can be found HERE

West Indian Manatee mother & calf, Bahamas - Gina & JJ - weaning

But manatees do breed elsewhere in the Bahamas, in particular the Berry Is. They also seem to favour the north end of Eleuthera, and have been seen on Andros and NP. True, the absence of significant freshwater sources in the Bahamas – an essential part of their diet –  doesn’t make for an ideal habitat, but manatees do pair off and Bahamas calves are born. In summer 2012, there were four resident West Indian Manatees (Trichechus manatus) living in Great Harbour Cay, Berry Is. The adult female, Gina, had been there for 3 years – she originated from Florida. She had reportedly had 3 or 4 calves and was caring for her latest, a female calf called JJ, born in the late winter of 2011.

Adult female manatees are sexually mature at 6-10 years of age and have a gestation period of up to 13 months. The first two years of a calf’s life is spent with its mother. During this time they are taught where to find food, fresh water, warmth and shelter. Generally, after two years the calf is weaned and separates from its mother (see header image of Gina and JJ during that process)

 Nursing a growing JJ West Indian Manatee mother & calf, Bahamas - Gina & JJ - nursing

Now there is more good news for Gina, who has been under regular observation by the BMMRO. At the turn of the year, Gina was re-tagged in Harbour Island, Eleuthera. As reported,  “she looks well, was very calm and is very pregnant… If the tag comes off and is found, please call the number on the tag to let us know – we are now monitoring her movements via the internet”.

Gina’s shows her best sideGina the Manatee 1

Coming atcher…Gina the Manatee 3

Tell-tale signs (to experts, anyway) of advanced pregnancyGina the Manatee 2

I will post any further news about Gina as it arises. Meanwhile, for more information about West Indian manatees, you can visit the MANATEE PAGE. There are several links there to specific manatee stories, especially about Rita and her adventurous daughter GEORGIE, Abaco’s current favourite (indeed, only) resident manatee… Both Links need an update, I notice –  they don’t cover Georgie’s subsequent return to Abaco and her contented settling down again in Cherokee where she seems happy as a… sirenian.

Dana & Trish greeting Georgie Manatee

Credits: All photos and primary fount of Bahamas manatee knowledge: BMMRO; Magpie Pickings




Merlins (Falco columbarius) are fierce small falcons that are fast and agile in flight. On Abaco, they are fairly common winter residents – though finding one and managing to photograph it may take a bit of doing. And maybe a dose of luck. The ‘columbarius‘ part of their taxonomy reflects their colloquial name ‘Pigeon Hawk’. Merlins are found throughout much of the northern hemisphere. They are classified as a New World species and an Old World / Eurasian subspecies, F c aesalon. Some argue for two distinct species, the gene pools of the two versions apparently having parted company ten of thousands of years ago. The birds aren’t overly bothered by the debate.

Merlin World Range Map: yellow = summer, blue = winter220px-Falco_columbarius_distribution_map


  • Slightly larger and notably heavier (thus having more speed and endurance in flight)
  • Different colouring, e.g. lacking the indicative reddish-browns of the AMKE
  • Distinctive tail-barring as against black ends to the tail feathers with a white fringe
  • Unlike the AMKE they don’t hover, but close in directly on the small birds that are the main prey, often flying very low to surprise the victim.

For comparison: Merlin in  South Abaco, American kestrel at Sandy PointMerlin, Abaco (Rhonda Pearce)American Kestrel, Abaco (Keith Salvesen)


Formidable! If you are a small or even medium-sized bird, you need to keep your wits about you. Merlins are largely ‘omni-habitat’ within their range, which includes open country, shrubland, light forest, and grasslands. They are fast, agile and strong. They can fly high, at medium height or at ground level, and are expert in surprise attack and rapid pursuit of prey. If you are a large bird of prey – a red-tailed hawk, perhaps – they may attack you with ferocity. They may not actually be trying to nail you, but to get you out of their territory and their catchment area.Merlin in flight, Abaco (Craig Nash)

Most of a merlin’s prey is taken in flight, and their speciality is ‘tail-chasing’ terrified birds. Breeding pairs may hunt cooperatively, with one bird flushing prey from cover into the open for its mate to… well, you get the picture – they are clever too. They may even pursue birds that have been flushed out by another bird of prey in the vicinity.Merlin in flight, Abaco (Craig Nash)


This is a slightly fraught relationship, because Merlins do not always pose as one might wish. Sometimes they are hard to see, being fairly well camouflaged unless they choose to ‘go out on a limb’. Merlin, Abaco (Gerlinde Taurer)

And sometimes they don’t play by the rules relating to light and focus, making a clear shot difficultMerlin, Abaco (Becky Marvil)



Dame Juliana Berners

Merlins were popular birds in medieval English falconry, and according to the 1486 Boke of Seynt Albans, the ‘Marlyon’ was considered the appropriate hunting bird for a lady. This book contained an essay on hunting attributed to Dame Juliana Berners, the prioress of a Priory near St Albans, who, game lady that she must have been, also contributed to one of the earliest treatises on fishing, ‘Fysshynge wyth an Angle‘ (hence, angling).  


The Dame’s Manuscript

FURTHER HISTORICAL DIGRESSION (feel free to skip to final para)

While reading up further about Dame Juliana, I came across (wiki-tnx) a wonderful ranking for birds of prey matched to status that I hadn’t encountered before. Here’s the list, from Emperor to Knave / Servant. A Tercel was / is a male falcon, especially a Peregrine or Gyrfalcon. A Musket is a sparrowhawk. 

Falconry Table

The Boke of Seynt Albans also contains list of collective nouns for animals and birds, many familiar today such as “gaggle of geese”. There are also humorous collective nouns for different professions, such as a “diligence of messengers”, a “melody of harpers”, a “blast of hunters”, “a subtlety of sergeants”, and a “superfluity of nuns”…

Merlins are still trained for hunting smaller birds; and because of their speed and agility they are used in falconry displays. Despite changing habitat, and a perceptible dip in population from the use of pesticides now banned (such as DDT), the Merlin seems to be holding its own very well 5 centuries after the Boke was written.

Merlin & Prey - Just a Prairie Boy, Calgary



audubon-iii-scavengers-and-birds-of-prey-merlin-aka-le-petit-caporal audubon-iii-scavengers-and-birds-of-prey-merlin-aka-pigeon-hawk

Credits: Becky Marvil (1 & 7); RH (2); Rhonda Pearce (3); Craig Nash (4 & 5); Gerlinde Taurer (6); Prairie Boy (8) wiki – not taken on Abaco, but I liked it; Dame Juliana Berners (1486); Magpie Pickings