“The Near Silence of Incubation”

Coastal Forest Merlin female on the nest. Photo credit: Marv Breece
Photo credit: Marv Breece

It’s late May and the male Merlins have already located suitable nesting platforms to attract and house a female companion. Merlins do not create their own nests, rather they recycle nests that were constructed in previous years by Northwest Crows who will likely not return to them. Crow’s nests are a Merlin favorite, as they are plentiful and easy to find, and located in the forest canopy where nestlings are safe from ground predators until they fledge. Interestingly, before mating occurs, the female Merlin is observed to rely on the male for food by becoming sedentary, even though she is quite capable of hunting herself. This may be the female’s way of testing the male’s ability to provide for her and the nestlings after the eggs are laid and she is no longer able to hunt.

Laying occurs from late April through early May. Right now in your backyards, female Merlins are settled into their nests and have laid clutches of 3-5 eggs. The male Merlin hunts songbirds for both himself and his mate while she is mostly confined to the nest to warm the eggs. This incubation period lasts from 28 to 32 days, almost all of which is performed by the female while the male provides sustenance and protection for her.