A merlin inhabiting a WIllow Point neighbourhood perches atop a backyard tree. Photo by Alistair Taylor

Here’s hoping the merlins develop a taste for pigeons

Virtually every morning, shortly after the sun comes up, I know they’re awake.

Their high pitched ee-ee-ee-ee-ee calls out and, like a stereophonic headphone test, zooms across the sky from one side of my auditory spectrum to the other. And I lie in bed listening.

Often when I stumble out to my car to head off to work, they call from a neighbour’s treetop. And I stop to watch them. One or the other will launch from that dizzying height and voice its stuttering screech across the sky as it heads to the top of another nearby fir tree. One of the tall trees still remaining in my neighbourhood houses their nest.

After some early morning cacophony, they disappear until late afternoon when, presumably done with their day’s peregrinations – pun intended – they return to their neighbourhood and where I believe their nest resides.

All-in-all the merlin couple that inhabits our Willow Point neighbourhood are a pretty noisy duo. Their calls cut through all sounds of wind, distant highway and the noises of human habitation. It’s the type of sound that could be considered annoying given it’s pitch, frequency and frequency (i.e., how often it’s made). But its the call of a pair of wild birds and I love it.

These “small fierce falcons,” as the Cornell Lab of Ornithology describes merlins, have inhabited my Campbell River neighbourhood for years now. I don’t know if it’s the same pair or different ones come and go but they’ve been in the area for at least a decade or more. I even had one pair nest in the tall Douglas fir tree in my backyard. That was before we had it topped to diminish the risk of it being blown down, like one strong wind threatened to do a few years back.

I’ve told this story before but one time my family was out in the backyard enjoying a sunny summer’s day on a picnic blanket when one of the nesting merlins returned from its wanderings. You know when it lands on the tree – and its nest, presumably – because the calls stop after jetting across the sky from afar to over our heads.

We were sitting at the foot of the tree in our yard and after a few minutes, feathers started wafting down from the tree. The merlin had obviously made a kill and was now dismembering it above our heads! Awesome.

Anyway, they used to be called pigeon hawks because they kind of look like them somewhat. Supposedly. I don’t think so but anyway, pigeons are relevant to our story in another way though. That’s because the usual prey of the merlin is tiny songbirds. Which I have no problem with. That’s nature. Get used to it.

Merlin is such a cooler name, of course, but it used to be named the pigeon hawk for its appearance and not because that was its preferred prey. Which is too bad because there’s another denizen of our neighbourhood whose calls have begun to impose themselves on our auditory experience.

They’re recent arrivals and they’re not as welcome.

They are, of course, pigeons and they’re an invasive species and they started showing up a few years ago. Some mornings it’s their coo-cooing – or however you want to describe their vocalization – that we hear. And I don’t like it. They come and they go and they’re not a native inhabitant and I wish they’d stay away.

I’d like to make them go away. I have visions of getting a slingshot and firing at them in the same tree that the merlins nested in my backyard that one summer. But I’d be afraid of where the rock would go if I missed them. I’m sure my neighbours from behind wouldn’t appreciate being binked on the head from a wayward stone.

So, I guess a .22 rifle is out the question too. And definitely a shotgun.

There I’d be like Elmer Fudd out the back in my tweed hat and instead of singing “The wabbit, the wabbit. Oooh, I’ll get the wabbit.” I’d be signing “The pigeon, the pigeon. Oooh, I’ll get the pigeon.” And it won’t be the Wascally Wabbit I’d be after, it would be the Pestilent Pigeon.

Where did they even come from anyway? They just started showing up one year. Do they migrate? Did somebody keep pigeons and these ones escaped and went feral?

I don’t know but what I do know is I wish the merlins would develop a taste for pigeons. I keep hoping one morning I’ll hear “coo-coo, coo-coo” then “ee-ee-ee-ee”…SQUAWK!

And that’d be the end of the pigeons.

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