Every year around August, two different predators start visiting my front deck--the deck where the bird feeders are. Those raptors aren't interested in the black oil sunflower seeds or the suet cakes that I put out for other birds. They are interested in the birds themselves as their next meal.
A few days ago I witnessed a sharp-shinned hawk chasing the Steller's jays around the trees. I grabbed a camera and went out to sit on the front deck.
A jay, one I've come to think of as the mother of a recently fledged pair of jays, hung around me very closely while another jay fended off the hawk.
This jay, mom I think, stayed deep in the spruce boughs. Then, getting brave, she flew down and walked under the chair where I was sitting and jumped up on a table next to me. I know she was hoping for a peanut, but I also think she felt safe when she was close to me. I don't know. You can never tell with corvids.
A couple nights later, I took the kayak out on the lake and got photos of a merlin, which is a small falcon.
This description is from The Cornel Lab's All About Birds site:
Merlins are small, fierce falcons that use surprise attacks to bring down small songbirds and shorebirds. They are powerful fliers, but you can tell them from larger falcons by their rapid wingbeats and overall dark tones. Medieval falconers called them “lady hawks,” and noblewomen used them to hunt Sky Larks. Merlin populations have largely recovered from twentieth-century declines, thanks to a ban on the pesticide DDT and their ability to adapt to life around towns and cities.
Merlins and sharp-shinned hawks have been breeding and hunting in this valley for as long as I've been here. It's really hard for me to tell them apart unless I get a good look at their faces and eye colors. Even then, juvenile hawks have yellow eyes that turn to deep red when they mature.
In the photos below, one is a merlin falcon and one is a sharp-shinned hawk. Keeping in mind that one is more golden because of the light, note the differences and tell me what you see they are. The plumpness of one's body doesn't count either. It's just the way it's perched.
Here's what to look for:
Sharp-shinned juvenile hawk has yellow eyes turning to red as an adult, blotched breast colors extending to the chin.
Merlin has dark brown eyes, a hint of a mustache, streaked breast, no chin colors.
There are other differences, but you can't see them in these photos.
And here are a couple different raptors I photographed from the kayak:
The first is a sub-adult bald eagle. By next year, it's fifth year, it should have the typical white head, white tail, yellow beak, and yellow eyes.
And the adult bald eagle:
Now it's your turn. What differences did you see between the hawk and the falcon and which is which.