The Merlin. Falco Columbarius
A legendary tale

The UK’s smallest bird of prey with a name embued with legendary, mystical, Arthurian connotations.The name “Merlin” comes from esmerillon, the old French name meaning small hawk. It is often described, in flight, as dashing, graceful and very fast. Experience bird watchers have told me it is a hard bird to spot and identify due to its speed and small size.

Like the Kestrel the Merlin is also able to hover and glide as well although it prefers to attack low and use speed and surprise, relying on ambush to get its prey. This little bird, 24–33 cm, likes high moorland habitat mostly found in the northern half of these Islands so not readily seen in the Cambridgeshire flatlands and fen country those spotted are often migrants wintering over from the continent or native birds moving south during the winter months.

In spite of their small size they are fierce, strongly built birds. They can themselves fall prey to larger predator birds like the Goshawk but more often than not they will be left alone due to the potential grief involved in taking them on.

One fact about the bird that I particularly like is that it gave its name to the Rolls-Royce liquid-cooled V-12 piston aero engine. The PV 12 engine was later given the name of Merlin, (it was Rolls Royce’s policy to name its piston engines after birds of prey). So why is that interesting? it was these engines that powered the Supermarine Spitfire, Hawker Hurricane and fitted to most of the Avro Lancaster heavy Bombers of world war two. The Americans built a version of the Merlin engine called the Packard V-1650 this was the main engine used to power the P51 Mustang fighter plane

A little bird with a legendary name. Incidentally if a man made engine sound could ever be described as beautiful, for my money, it’s the spitfire Merlin Rolls-Royce liquid-cooled V-12 piston

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