For the Birds Radio Program: A Happy Merlin Story (DD)

Original Air Date: Sept. 15, 1993

When Laura got a phone call from the state patrol, she knew there were exciting times ahead. 2:51

Audio missing


When the State Patrol 911 dispatcher calls up on a Friday night, too often it’s with bad news, but you can’t always be sure. This summer when I got a call from the dispatcher, he simply asked if I would help some little girls who had a bird problem.

It turned out they were home alone for the weekend—the older was fifteen—when a bird chasing another bird got tangled in their hammock. Between the initial impact and its struggles, the wing had twisted completely around. They looked it up in a bird book and were pretty sure it was a Merlin, so they called the DNR. Whoever they spoke to had never heard of a Merlin and told them to leave it be and let nature take its course. But they could hardly let nature take its course right there in their backyard hammock! They tried several other numbers, but had trouble finding anyone who could or would help them out until they finally called 911.

By the time I got there, one girl had already resourcefully put on heavy gloves and gently and carefully extricated the bird from the hammock, placing it in a cardboard box. They shyly told me they were relieved that they didn’t have to cut the hammock—their mom might have been upset about that. They told me another bird had been calling to it from a tree until it got dark—maybe that was its mother.

I peeked into the box at a lovely young female Merlin. The girls had competently untwisted the damaged wing, and thank to their care, the little falcon looked to be in fine shape, though unable to fly.

I never take care of raptors—there are experts who can do it much better than I—so I brought it to David Evans, director of the Hawk Ridge Research Station. He recognized her as a baby who had fledged just two weeks earlier from a neighborhood nest.

Dave’s experienced fingers felt no break in the bones, though the wing was swollen and sprained. He sent her down to the Raptor Center in St. Paul the next day—the Fuji Film Company has a truck that goes down that way most days, and they generously carry all Duluth’s injured hawks and owls down to the Raptor Center for Dave. I called the girls to tell them how proud I was of them—their careful actions had clearly not only meant the difference between life and death for the falcon, but also saved it from a life as a permanent cripple.

Within a few weeks, the Merlin’s wing was completely healed, and the Raptor Center shipped it back to Duluth for release. Dave let the girls know it was coming so they could see the little falcon they saved flying as it should, on quiet wings through the open sky.