Merlin - Kachina
31 Oct 2018, 2:14 PM,
#1
Merlin - Kachina
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[Image: 640]

First 2 images of same Merlin.  I wanted to call it a Black, but couldn't be sure.  "allaboutbirds" does have a very similar picture labeled as Black.  Any thoughts on Black or dark Taiga?  Third photo is a couple weeks later - a Prairie using same perches.  Digiscope at 200 yds with 7 MP.
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31 Oct 2018, 5:11 PM,
#2
RE: Merlin - Kachina
One of the references I have on hand here says black Merlins don't show white bars on the tail feathers.
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31 Oct 2018, 7:44 PM,
#3
RE: Merlin - Kachina
Several sources show Black Merlins with pale bars on the tail: Sibley, iBird, quite a few of the presumably correctly identified Macaulay Library entries. The lack of a pale supercilium and the mostly dark upper breast (as opposed to dark streaks on a pale background) seems like good marks for Black Merlin.
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31 Oct 2018, 8:43 PM,
#4
RE: Merlin - Kachina
That bird certainly is very dark...see Brian Wheeler's Raptors of Western North America which is what I consulted.
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1 Nov 2018, 8:11 AM,
#5
RE: Merlin - Kachina
Sniffing through the bookshelf this morning there is in the first edition (1987) Clark and Wheeler PFG Hawks the following: “Black form is very dark overall, including cheeks, lacks the superciliary line, and has, at most, faint light tail bands. “  In F. M. Bailey’s 1927 Handbook of Birds of the Western United States notes for adult male “tail black, with three slaty whitish bars” and for adult females and immatures “tail bands, except for whitish tips, indistinct or obsolete.”  I wonder what the basis for the statements you note in the modern references might be. Probably the difference between these races is clinal.
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1 Nov 2018, 3:05 PM,
#6
RE: Merlin - Kachina
There was a tan vague supercilium on the bird, and a faint mustache, although they aren't obvious in the photo.  Sibley mentions that some eastern Taiga resemble Black.  So with the white tail bands visible, I guess this goes under Taiga..

Sleeper
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1 Nov 2018, 4:37 PM,
#7
RE: Merlin - Kachina
I wonder if the original subspecies description was based on a small or extreme sample. The most obvious ones had a dark tail without bands so that became the standard. Maybe the ubiquity of digital photography has helped to illustrate the actual range of variability. Here's one example pulled from a Macaulay Library search that shows a bird with breast and underwing pattern that look good for Black Merlin, but it has a faint supercilium, mustache and tail bands. https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S49125429
If you search through Macaulay Library, you can find plenty of similar examples.
On a completely unrelated note, I read that F.M. Bailey is C. Hart Merriam's sister. Yea Little Springs!
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2 Nov 2018, 4:47 PM,
#8
RE: Merlin - Kachina
I think one of the problems here is that there is no strong or uniform biological criteria for what makes a population a "subspecies" (which is not surprising given that defining organisms at the species level is problematic enough!). There are certainly cases where subspecies are easy enough to distinguish from one another from outward appearance, but also a tremendous number of cases where they can't be.

BNA describes Merlins as following "Gloger's Rule" of being darker in more humid areas. This peaks in the Pacific Northwest "Black" subspecies, is less so in "Boreal/Taiga" birds and is lowest in the "Prairie" merlins. Almost certainly, there is no sharp break between any of these types and there is also likely considerable variation within each type. I wouldn't go any further than calling this a dark-plumaged Merlin.

Jason
Flagstaff, AZ
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