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July 30, 2009  
Photo of Kevin Mack.

Happy Reunions
by Kevin Mack, PAWS Wildlife Naturalist

Picture of PAWS Wildlife Veterinarian Dr. John Huckabee
PAWS Wildlife Veterinarian Dr. John Huckabee examined this year's Merlin shortly after she was admitted.

Last summer, a pair of Merlins caused a stir in a North Seattle neighborhood when they took up residence in an abandoned crow nest. It was the first documented instance of these small falcons nesting within the Seattle city limits. Neigbhors closely watched the birds for most of the breeding season, and when one of their five chicks fell from the nest, he was immediately scooped up and brought to the PAWS Wildlife Center. Fortunately, the young Merlin was uninjured, but there was no practical way to return him to the nest which was about 80 feet up in a cedar tree.

After consulting with local falcon experts, we decided to reunite the fallen Merlin with his family when his siblings began to fledge from the nest. After about 10 days, the young at the nest site began to take short flights. It wasn't long before the parent birds were delivering food to their hungry brood in trees throughout the neighborhood. As planned, we reintroduced the young Merlin that had fallen from the nest at this time. He was placed on the roof of a garage near a tree that his siblings had been frequenting. Everything went well and the bird was reintegrated into his family and under the care of his parents within a few days after release.

Picture of the Merlin
Fortunately, the Merlin was injury free.

This summer the same pair of adult Merlins nested again in North Seattle, not far from the 2008 nest site. They once again hatched five chicks, and were under regular surveillance by nest watchers and interested neighbors. When one of the chicks made her first attempts at flight in late June, she crashed into a cedar tree and plummeted to the ground. Fearing that she might have been injured, concerned citizens quickly gathered the bird up and brought her to PAWS.

On admission, the Merlin was a little shaken up but she had no apparent injuries. The decision was made to follow the same plan that was used in 2008 to reunite the bird with her family. I kept in close contact with Barbara Deihl who was monitoring the nest site daily. Two days after the fledgling Merlin was admitted, Barbara reported that the other four youngsters had flown from the nest and their parents were now delivering prey to them all around the neighborhood.

On the morning of July 3, I placed the Merlin in a transport carrier and drove her back to North Seattle. A small group of neighbors had gathered to witness the bird's return, and a raptor researcher named Jack Bettesworth joined me at the release site to federally band the Merlin. I placed a hood on the Merlin during the banding process to help lower her stress level. She stayed relatively calm as Jack secured the numbered aluminum band on her left leg. Once the banding was complete, it was time to return the little raptor to her family.

Picture of the Merlin
The young Merlin was placed on the roof of a garage at her release.

Picture of the Merlin in the trees
The young Merlin remained in vocal contact with her family as she worked her way higher up into the trees.

Prior to my arrival, Barbara had identified a fir tree in which the Merlin's siblings and parents had been spending a lot of time. In a repeat of the events of 2008, I removed the bird's hood and placed her on the roof of a garage next to the tree. She was a little bit disoriented at first, but after getting her bearings she walked up to the peak of the roof and began to vocalize. One of the Merlin's siblings vocalized in return from the nearby tree. As the two birds chattered back and forth, a vocalizing adult flew in from the south and landed in the same tree as the reintroduced Merlin's sibling. The youngster on the roof of the garage began to run back and forth excitedly, periodically opening her wings and preparing to launch, but obviously unsure whether or not she could cover the distance to the tree.

Eventually the Merlin did get up the courage to fly from the roof. She landed about 15 feet up in a deciduous tree. She then made a series of shorter flights, working her way ever-higher. Before long, she was in the same tree as her family, and within about an hour of being released a meal had been delivered to her by one of her parents. She was last spotted (and positively identified) on July 18. She had lost the remainder of her down and appeared to be a healthy and strong young Merlin.

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