What falcon did I see in Oxfordshire?
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.