The Merlin's Magical Comeback

January 04, 2018

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Photographer: Rob Sheridan 
Summary Author: Rob Sheridan 

January 2018 Viewer's ChoiceAlthough Swiss chemist Paul Müller’s organochlorine insecticide Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) improved human health by killing disease-causing arthropods (for which he won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1948), it came with significant unintended consequences. One of these was its impact on eggshell formation in apex predator birds that lead to the near extinction of several raptors, including the Merlin (Falco columbarius). The extreme stability of the DDT molecule meant it persisted for decades in the environment, explaining the very slow recovery of the affected raptors after its North American use was banned in 1972. But the rugged Merlin is making a steady comeback, giving us the chance to experience its magical combination of marking, color and posture camouflage. It’s tough for a raptor-sized bird, even a relatively small one, to hide in a bare tree, but the Merlin, with its variegated patchy color scheme and sure balance, is up to the challenge. This migrating Merlin was photographed in autumn, along the Atlantic Flyway in Squantum, Massachusetts, while scanning a salt mash for prey from an unsteady perch in an exposed tree on a very blustery day. Photo taken on November 25, 2017.