There have been no birds at our bird feeder again this winter.
This is why:
This beast has been lurking around the area for a long time now; he first came the year before last, snatching a sparrow out of the sky and devouring him on the ground in our backyard. We had heard a pair flying about, with their distinctive call that sends shivers up my spine — imagine how the smaller birds feel when they hear it! I originally thought he was a kestrel, but a comparison of the calls makes me sure its his relative, the merlin.
I believe the North American falcon known as the merlin (Falco columbarius), a smallish hawk (only growing to about 12″ in length, but with an almost 27″ wingspan) that feeds on small birds is our newest visitor. They supposedly over-winter in warmer climes and only spend the summers here. I recall that I have seen its kin in Mexico — its also known as the pigeon hawk.
This is the shot of him that I took last winter. This magnificent raptor has a distinctive brown chest and the sharp, downward pointing beak. The talons on this bird are amazing. They are meant for catching its prey in mid-air while it does incredible flying acrobatics in pursuit of its next meal. I believe they eat two meals a day.