The Buddha, The Dharma, The Sangha

"Spiritual powers and their wondrous functioning--hauling water and carrying firewood." --Layman Pang, upon his realization

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Merlin visits every morning now, searching our small backyard for tasty morsels, preferably the sweet little "morsels" we put birdseed and suet out for. Here is the Cornicopia, the Groaning Board--Cardinals, Titmice, House Sparrows, Chickadees, Jays, Juncos and the mighty, mighty Wren--all look fattened and irresistible to a hungry Master Hunter such as the Merlin. Sleek, handsome and fierce, the Merlin waits patiently for the sun to rise, providing the semi-light that the Cardinals and other ground feeders prefer.
Everyone swoops in and feeds quickly, sensing that the Merlin is about. He may not be visible, but he is ever vigilant, a-tuned for subtle movement and a bird that may have strayed a little too far from the flock.
Our Merlin is a puffy looking male in a slate-blue mourning coat, rust colored britches and tattersall vest, terribly good looking, except for those talons and hooked beak, designed for a quick kill. It's been observed that some hunted birds will actually die of a heart attack when the shadow of the Merlin appears. Truly, if the Merlin wants to eat you, his chances of doing so are quite great--one in two strikes results in a kill, and he will rarely go without food. In some instances, he keeps a cache of songbirds, moths, dragonflies and small mammals and reptiles for lean times.
Hunting is the Merlin's genius, and to watch him in action is to see an animal built for stealth and pursuit. We've watched our Merlin in years past sweep into the yard, pluck a bird from the birdbath, then somersault in mid-air to prevent crashing into the fence, recover his equalibrium in a heartbeat, then vault into the trees to enjoy the feast. Left in his wake are the rest of the flock wondering what the hell just happened, and aren't we missing someone?
In a matter of seconds, the Merlin has done his work. Then everyone just goes back to business as usual, maybe thinking, well, it wasn't me...this time.
Over the years, our Merlin has wintered over, perhaps because we supply him with such an abundant food supply. We've never seen him with a mate, and we've never seen baby Merlins, so he seems to be a solitary creature, at least for now.
Mating season usually takes place between April and June, and a breeding pair will stay together to feed and fledge the chicks, then go their separate ways--they do not mate for life like some raptors. One charming fact about immature males is that they will often connect with a mated pair to act as a nest supervisor; cleaning, guarding and sharing baby sitting duties. How this arrangement is brokered one can only imagine.

These winter mornings, he is a welcome sight, even though I know what his intentions are. I remind myself that the Merlin needs to eat too. This morning, he wasn't on his favorite perch not far from the kitchen window. As I opened my altar and offered the Verse of The Kesa, my eyes lingered on the trees just beginning to take shape in the dawning. Songs birds flitted at the bird feeders, so the Merlin must have been elsewhere.
Later, as I stepped out to put something in the trash, his sturdy, purposeful form soared above me, the herald of our new day.

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