The Falcon and the Snowbird – A Battle of Life and Death (Photos) Skip to content

The Falcon and the Snowbird – A Battle of Life and Death (Photos)

By Iceland Review

Birds come to town in winter in Iceland. That’s where the food is. This morning we saw a blackbird in the garden on a branch. We could almost have touched it by stretching out our hand. They are quite common in Iceland nowadays.



So when we saw a bird in our neighbor’s garden the first instinct was that it was a blackbird. But no, it was bigger, and its tail was certainly different. It was sitting on the fence, eating. And it didn’t seem to be eating bird’s feed at all. No this was red and furry. Could it be a falcon eating a mouse?

It looked evil eyed in the binoculars. Could it be a falcon? No, it looked smaller, and falcons usually don’t come to Reykjavík. The book of Icelandic birds has a picture of the merlin, a small falcon, but it migrates and should have left Iceland in August.

Merlin bird

The furry thing it was eating was in fact feathery. It was a predator bird. Finally, we got close enough. It sure looked like a merlin. Back to the book: “A few stay for the winter.” It was a merlin, maybe having the very blackbird we saw this morning for breakfast. It has the nickname ‘little devil’ in Iceland.

Merlin bird

Here is more on the merlin from various sources:

Wikipedia: The merlin (Falco columbarius) is a small species of falcon from the Northern Hemisphere. A bird of prey once known colloquially as a pigeon hawk in North America,[2] the merlin breeds in the northern Holarctic; some migrate to subtropical and northern tropical regions in winter.

Merlin bird

Taking off with the body.

The name merlin is derived from the Dutch Merlijn, vernacular merlin, with the dropping of the ‘s’ from smerlijn, smerlin in turn is derived from Middle French esmerillon. In German, the synonymous names Schmerl, Schmirl, Schmerlin came from Middle High German smirle, via Old High German smerlo, smiril. The ‘s’ has been abraded over time in the German language. In the Icelandic or the Faroese languages, its name is smyrill or smyril

Merlin bird

Falling feather.

Birds on Iceland: Falco columbarius; is the most common bird of prey on Iceland. It can be found in most regions, except for the deserts of the highlands. It can be observed often in the lowlands during the spring/summer period. However, one needs to watch carefully as it is a rather small bird and as such easily overlooked as a bird of prey. The tail-beak length is about 25 to 30 cm., which is only marginally larger than the common redwing. It is indeed the smallest falcon of Europe. Closer observation immediately show this is a falcon. The male has a blue-greyish back and upper parts of the wing where this is brownish on the female. The male has also a slightly orange striated bottom parts where the female has a lighter matrix. It hunts passerines and during the winter migration to the British Isles and Western Europe often follows their prey.

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