Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Merlin vs. Northern Flicker
A Merlin feeds on small birds, rodents, bats, and reptiles, as well as large insects such as dragonflies, which are especially hunted by fledglings in the late summer. Among the small birds typically consumed by the Merlin are starlings and small shorebirds.
After witnessing this, I found myself wondering how much a Merlin needs per day to be healthy. It seems the need varies depending on the gender, size of the bird and the season. A smaller bird needs to eat a higher percentage of body weight than a larger bird. The male Merlin weighs approximately 180 grams (6.34 oz) and the female weighs approximately 230 (8.11 oz) grams. Therefore, the male Merlin will need to consume more food in a day than the female. Why is it that the smaller bird needs more? Because the smaller bird has less volume in relation to surface area, thus causing them to lose body heat faster.
The Merlin needs to eat between 15 to 21 percent of their body weight per day, depending on their size. With a general weight range between 6.3 (male) to 8.1 ounces (female,) The female will need to eat approximatly 1.2 ounce of food per day. A typical sparrow weighs about .5 ounces. That suggests a female could make do in a day with a diet of 2 sparrows and several dragonflies. (Note: Female raptors are usually larger than males.) The male Merlin could need as much as the equivalent of 2.5 sparrows per day plus several dragonflies.
Given the size comparison of my Merlin to the flicker, I think this was the smaller male looking for his breakfast on this day in August. Considering that a Northern Flicker can weigh from 4 to 6 ozs, what would happen to the leftovers? The Merlin will cache its food and return to it at a later time. A good catch like a flicker could mean this Merlin would not have to hunt for several days.
The average life span of a Merlin is 15.5 - 16 years.
The average life span of a Northern Flicker 5 years. I wonder if this is impacted by its being hunted.