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An Urban Merlin (or Two)

Yesterday evening I was very much taken by the pied wagtail roost at Bristol’s Broadmead shopping centre. Alone among hundreds of shoppers, I bothered to watch and even to count. I’d reached about 500 when a larger, but still not large, dark shape sped through the swirling flock.

Sparrowhawk, I registered straightaway then couldn’t believe my eyes as the bird banked to display the clearest falcon profile you could hope for. And was gone.

OK so, Bristol has famous peregrines but they’re big and tend not to bother with snacks like wagtails. City centre kestrels are not uncommon but their long tails are usually obvious and they prefer not to chase birds. Hobby? Just as unlikely as merlin and its favourite prey is the odd hirundine. That left merlin and, Holmes-like, that’s how I’ll call it despite the species being very much rural.

Or is it? I do actually have a Christmas Day record from 2001 outside my house in Cupertino, Silicon Valley – a good record too as the bird posed on a power pole for ages. And one from a year later in Santa Cruz, also urban California. These are American birds of course and their behaviour may be different to ours, just like their golden eagles.

But they do also persuade me to trust my snap identification, on the whole. So, merlin goes on the Bristol list.

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