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The Merlin is a fascinating small falcon, standing outside the usual grouping of the 'True Falcons', and with a range that is confined to northern climes, an exclusive preference that is shared by only one other, the much larger Gyrfalcon.
This is the first comprehensive book on the species, covering its complete circumpolar range. The Merlin starts with a general comments on the evolution of the True Falcons and thoughts on their grouping, then covers the general characteristics of the Merlin, the species' habitat, its diet, breeding (territory, displays, pair formation, nest sites, eggs, chick growth, nest predation and breeding success), migration and wintering, survival, the Merlin's friend and foes, and estimations of the world population. It also includes data gathered with a unit flown on a male Merlin.
Previous books by the author include the award-winning Gyrfalcon (co-produced with Russian expert Eugene Potapov), The Snowy Owl (also with Eugene Potapov), the first field guide to birds and mammals of the Arctic, and The Arctic: The Complete Story which covered all aspects of the area.
"[...] 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
"The raptors have probably attracted more monographs than any other group of birds, with most of the British and Irish species having at least one volume written about them. The Merlin, by Richard Sale, is the first to tackle this small falcon since Petere Wright's book on the Merlins of the South-East Yorkshire Dales, published nearly a decade ago. Some readers will recognise Richard's name from the Poyser monograph on Gyrfalcon, written in partnership with Eugene Potapov, and like that book, this is a detailed and well-researched account.
The book follows what has become a fairly standard format for monographs. The species and its character are first introduced through a more general section on falcons – and in this instance falconry – before the text turns to diet and hunting behaviour. Roughly a quarter of the book is then devoted to breeding ecology which, given that this is where most research on the species has been focused, is extremely rich in its content. The final third of the book covers movements, mortality, interactions with other species and the reasons for population change.
The focus of the book is very much global, placing the ecology and behaviour of British and Irish Merlins into a wider context, but Richard has also been able to bring to the book the research being carried by fieldworkers here, working in places like the Peak District and Scotland. It is really good to see, for example, the chick growth curves produced by the work of Nick Picozzi, Ian Poxton and Alan Heavisides in a book of this kind.
The text is packed with information and is well-supported by the key references but there are occasions where long and poorly structured sentences make it difficult to interpret what is being said. At a wider level the narrative lacks structure and the reader isn't engaged in a 'story' in the way that the best raptor monographs manage to achieve. Photographs and other figures accompany the text, with the latter mostly well used to support what is being said. There is, however, a lack of consistency in the graphs and figures – these vary greatly in style, font size and colour use – and the quality of the photographs is equally variable – one or two are rather pixelated. Such quibbles aside, the book delivers a wealth of information on the Merlin and will surely support and prompt more work on this engaging bird."
– Mike Toms, BTO book reviews