How to Find a Merlin in Southern Ontario

I had unexpected help in finding a medium-sized falcon called a Merlin while I was out looking for Lapland Longspurs last week. More experienced birders will suggest you always pay attention when you hear Chickadees and Crows calling up a storm. I’m glad I did because it helped me to find a Merlin near Dundas, Ontario.

Photo of Merlin Preening on NaturalCrooksDotCom

American Crow Versus Merlin: An Unexpected Aerial Fight

Crows don’t particularly like large predatory birds such as hawks and owls. You’ll often read of crows “mobbing” a Great Horned Owl until it’s forced to leave a tree and find elsewhere to roost so it can get some peaceful rest before nightfall.

Photo of American Crow Merlin Far Out On NaturalCrooksDotCom

So when I heard a crow calling aggressively and saw it swooping repeatedly towards the bare branch of a dead tree top, I stopped my car and looked up, way up.

Sure enough, the Crow was bombing at another much smaller bird. I grabbed my camera, parked the car perilously close to the ditch with the hazard lights flashing and started walking briskly up the steep muddy hill on the country road.

Photo of American Crow Up Attack On NaturalCrooksDotCom

At first, I thought the Crow was after a small hawk. Then the raptor burst up into the air after the crow. The narrow pointed wings and the type of wing beats suggested this was a falcon not a hawk.

Photo of American Crow Merlin Engage On NaturalCrooksDotCom

Despite the poor lighting, the distance and the height of the birds, I kept trying to get photos. Later, at home, I would be able to confirm that the raptor was not an American Kestrel, which is robin-sized, nor a Peregrine, which is crow-sized, but the medium-sized Merlin.

Photo of American Crow Merlin Pass On NaturalCrooksDotCom

Battle for Tree Top Supremacy

The two birds fought repeatedly over the next 10 minutes. The crow would perch, calling, and then working itself into a fury, try flying straight at the Merlin. It would come in from the sides, above, even from below.

Photo of American Crow Merlin Tail On NaturalCrooksDotCom

Eventually, the Merlin would lift in the air and chase the Crow back. There is some noticeable blood on the talons of the Merlin but from what or who I can’t tell.

Photo of Merlin Flight on NaturalCrooksDotCom

The Merlin would then perch again trying to ignore the bigger black bird. The Crow, infuriated, would begin its bullying tactics again.

Photo of American Crow Merlin Close In on NaturalCrooksDotCom

Eventually after at least 5 rebuffed attacks, the Crow gave up and settled down in another tree nearby.

Photo of American Crow Takeoff Merlin On NaturalCrooksDotCom

Whether it had permanently ceased its aggression or whether it began again soon thereafter I’m not sure. I had to rescue my car and get back home. But I was well pleased I had taken the time to find out why the Crow was so noisy and what it was after.


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Have you found any interesting birds or animals by watching the aggressive behavior of other birds? Have chickadees led you to a Screech Owl, or Crows to a Red Tailed Hawk? Please share your sighting with a comment.

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