Statement as issued Wednesday by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources:
Merlins, a small falcon species that normally nests in Canada, apparently have set up shop at Pokagon State Park.
“It’s simply unprecedented,” said Brad Bumgardner, president of the Indiana Audubon Society. “There is no breeding anywhere within 150 to 200 miles of the park.”
Bumgardner is the park interpreter at Indiana Dunes State Park and worked previously at Pokagon.
“Merlins are a wintering species,” he said, noting they typically migrate through Indiana beginning in October. “I had one at the (Indiana Dunes) pavilion all winter long last year. They tend to follow shore birds and we see them a lot at Dunes in the winter, but never in the summertime.”
Pokagon park interpreter Fred Wooley said three merlins were identified at the park last week, including an adult female and two juveniles. A nest site has not been confirmed, but the presence of the adult and juveniles makes it likely they youngsters were hatched at the park.
“It would be the first nesting record of merlins in Indiana,” said John Castrale, a DNR biologist specializing in raptors. “It’s kind of a big deal.”
Bumgardner said the Michigan Breeding Bird Atlas notes only three or four merlin nesting sites in the lower peninsula of Michigan.
“These birds were probably already here and decided it looked like home in the summertime,” Bumgardner said. “The male picked out a potential nesting site, advertised a female into it, and here we go.”
Wooley said most of the merlin activity has been in a stand of large Norway spruce located on two grassy islands in the park’s south beach parking lot.
“Viewers can find plenty of parking in the lot, and obviously there are other people recreating in the area,” Wooley said. “We ask that no artificial recordings be used to draw in the birds, which might disturb their normal feeding routines. They have been fairly consistent in the area and with some patience, can be seen and heard.”
According to the National Geographic Complete Birds of North America, adult merlins weigh about 9 ounces and are about 12 inches tall with an approximate wingspan of 25 inches. They are active hunters that primarily feed on other birds by taking their prey in midair.