This Merlin, not to be confused with the Peregrine Falcon (top of page), is a smaller falcon with a lot of heart. It shows up in proportionately large numbers in Block Island banding studies in comparison to other raptors.
For decades, scientists have known that Block Island serves as a vital stopover site each fall for migrating warblers, vireos, and many other songbirds. But despite the careful documentation of annual songbird movements, surprisingly little was known about migrating raptors.
During the 1970s and early 1980s, most raptors – particularly peregrine falcons – were still recovering from the widespread use of harmful pesticides earlier in the century. More recently, however, birders have been thrilled at the increasingly common sight of these amazing birds streaking over the island. A real treat!
Anecdotal information about additional raptors migrating through Block Island led a crew from the Biodiversity Research Institute to come down from Maine last year to investigate. Researchers spent two months at Lewis-Dickens Farm counting and banding raptors.
And the data confirmed what The Nature Conservancy and its local partners had theorized: Block Island is not only vital for songbirds, it’s also extremely important for raptors.
This is especially true for the Merlin, a medium-sized falcon. In fact, the capture rates for Merlins on Block Island were some of the highest anywhere on the east coast.
In all, scientists captured eight different raptors: Merlin (74 banded), Peregrine Falcon (35 banded), Northern Harrier (10 banded), Cooper’s Hawk (8 banded), Sharp-shinned Hawk (7 banded), American Kestrel (5 banded), Red-tailed Hawk (1 banded), and Northern Goshawk (1 banded). The study was conducted from September 8 to November 1, and will be repeated during the same period in 2013.
But here’s the best part! Six large peregrine falcons were fitted with special backpacks, enabling researchers to track the birds’ movements for more than a year. This real time data provided invaluable information that will allow for better protection of the falcons during their migration in the spring and fall.
After so many years of scientific research and monitoring, this groundbreaking study was a great reminder that there is still much to learn about the natural world on Block Island. If you get a chance to come to Block Island in the fall, be sure to look up to the sky. The “raptor migration show” is about to start!