What falcon did I see in Ox­ford­shire?

Bird Watching (UK) - - Your View -

QGiven my sur­name, I have al­ways had an in­ter­est in birds of prey, and can iden­tify most Bri­tish (and, bet­ter, most North Amer­i­cans). From my gar­den in If­fley, near Ox­ford, most rap­tors are easy. My ques­tion con­cerns a small falcon, spot­ted on 9 May and clearly go­ing some­where else, nei­ther hov­er­ing nor hunt­ing. It was head­ing north, about a hun­dred feet up. Hobby or Mer­lin? When perched, it is rel­a­tively easy, as the Mer­lin is chunkier. There are Kestrels around, they hover a nearby field, but this one looked pur­pose­ful. What about fre­quency or like­li­hood, at this time of year? Gra­ham Fal­coner, If­fley

AHobby would be the like­lier of the two at that time of year in that area, as most Mer­lins would have re­turned to their breed­ing grounds (well away from Ox­ford) by now. It’s not im­pos­si­ble, how­ever – northerly winds held up mi­gra­tion quite a lot this spring, and there were still Short-eared Owls on their win­ter­ing grounds in May. Hob­bies (such as the bird pic­tured be­low) are rel­a­tively com­mon around there, though, so we’d say it’s the more likely of the two, and be­ing close to wa­ter also makes it more likely. Hobby would be eas­ier to con­fuse with Kestrel, while a fly­ing Mer­lin brings Pere­grine to mind, un­til you get a sense of size.

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