We want to end 2017 with our own hommage to Visit Wales' Year of Legends campaign by talking about Merlins. Not quite the Welsh wizard from the legend, but these tiny falcons are just as magical.
One of the scarcest species on the Rhug Estate is the Merlin, a tiny falcon, a bird of wild, open country which breeds on high, heather-covered moors. Merlins particularly favour areas of deep heather where, on a mossy base, they lay their eggs. The usual clutch size is four, the eggs being a rich reddish-brown colour.
Merlins are agile hunters, their main prey being small birds, particularly Meadow Pipits which are abundant in these areas. They have extraordinary tenacity when chasing their quarry, pursuits often lasting several minutes.
In the winter, Merlins follow their prey to lower ground such as coastal marshes and estuaries, returning to the moors once again in April.
Due to their small size, secretive behaviour and preference for remote places, Merlins can easily be overlooked. They are also an important qualifying species for the Specially Protected Area (SPA) status which applies to the Berwyn it is imperative that their numbers are monitored. For this reason considerable time is spent each year locating and following the birds through the season.
Like many species, Merlin populations can fluctuate. However, the past decade has seen a significant decline which seems to be persisting and for this reason efforts are being made to identify the criteria which might be affecting these birds. Many ideas have been suggested including cold dry springs combined with wet summers, prey supply, and predation.
About the Author
Keith Offord has been monitoring populations of Merlins and other scarce breeding species across Berwyn for many years and his continued work will hopefully contribute to our greater understanding of this fabulous little raptor.