| Richard Sale | Snowfinch Publishing | 2020 | Hardback | 352 Pages | Colour & B&W Photos & Illustrations | ISBN: 9780957173224 |
The Publisher’s View:
The Merlin is a very special bird. One of the smallest ‘True Falcons’, it stands outside the usually assumed grouping of the others, and also prefers a habitat which differs markedly from them. While most falcons are found in warmer climes, the Merlin is a northern dweller, occupying a circumpolar range at the fringes of the Arctic. Only the Gyrfalcon has a range which extends further north, though sub-species of that remarkable traveller the Peregrine Falcon also breed in the Arctic. With its fast, agile flight the Merlin was popular with medieval falconers who thrilled at its ‘ringing’ flight in pursuit of larks.
Today, changes in legislation mean the species is much less often seen as a falconry bird. It might be assumed that with its vast range the Merlin has been well studied, but nowhere is it common, and much of its habitat is difficult to reach and work in, though the falcon’s recent enthusiasm for urban-dwelling in North America has made it more accessible and its biology and ecology have become better understood. This book draws together what is currently known about this elusive, but beautiful and enchanting species.
Richard Sale is a physicist with a PhD in astrophysics, who now devotes his time to studying Arctic ecology and the flight dynamics of falcons. He has studied Merlins across the species’ range. With Eugene Potapov he co-authored The Gyrfalcon monograph which won the US Wildlife Society Book of the Year in 2006. More recently he co-authored Steller’s Sea Eagle with Vladimir Masterov and Michael Romanov which won the US Wildlife Society Book of the Year in 2019. His other books include the first field guide to birds and mammals of the Arctic, The Snowy Owl (again with Eugene Potapov), The Arctic: The Complete Story (recently republished as The Arctic, with photographs by himself and Norwegian photographer Per Michelsen), and the New Naturalist title Falcons.
“[…] Sorry, Merlins, I was remiss to neglect you. The Merlin reveals a fascinating bird, as well as an interesting look at the studies that have shed light on it. It is required for anyone working with this falcon, and recommended to other ornithologists, as well as birders and falconers who’d like to know more about it.”
– Grant McCreary (20-10-2015), read the full review at The Birder’s Library
“[…] this is a very good book […] All in all, this is a book that all raptor enthusiasts and Merlin workers especially will want to have on their shelves.”
– Eric Meek, Ibis 157, 2015
Like its companion volume (Kestrel) it is a very comprehensive study of our smallest falcon, and also covers its entire range and draws upon years of academic ornithological study. Despite being a detailed scientific monograph, it is accessible and will be of interest to even a casual birder as well as a raptor specialist (although some will baulk at the hefty price). One reason it is so accessible is the use of very good images, both photographic and drawn. The author’s background in a completely different scientific tradition, from physics and aerodynamics gives him a unique perspective and is another reason it is so accessible. He has become a raptor specialist through studying the physics of their flight so combines scientific rigour with the amateur birder’s delight in birds. Rarely has such a combination resulted in an iconic monograph.