Downy feathers loft about like snowflakes as I step outside, blowing rudderless across my deck to catch in the cedars. I look up expectantly and find the merlin where I thought he'd be: hunched on a perch above, plucking feathers from a recently caught yellow-rumped warbler.
I have grown accustomed to this sight: He and his mate are nesting in a pine nearby. He was here alone all winter; she showed up sometime in March.
Merlins are small, aggressive falcons. They chase their prey—primarily songbirds—through the air, sometimes coming at them from below to disorient and confuse, coaxing the birds further and further away from cover. The merlins pursue at a steady, furious pace, their sharp wings rowing like oars across the open sky.
The merlin pair that nests here usually ignores me. But when they don't, they gaze down with indifference at the omnipresent, bearded gawker who snaps photos of their private lives. I feel like James Stewart with my Rear Window cracked wide enough to extend a lens and document the goings-on of these neighbors. I see murders. Lots of them. Yesterday a house sparrow. Today the yellow-rumped warbler.
The merlins are there almost every time I go outdoors: roosting in the elm by my front door, feeding on the telephone pole in the backyard, or dive-bombing the bewildered mallard grazing under my bird feeder.
I seek wildness and am comforted to find it so close to home. Eventually, the eggs in the merlin nest will hatch, the chicks will fledge, and the birds will move on. I hope next year they come back. Yes, they can be loud, and they sometimes leave blood in my driveway, but they are good neighbors nonetheless.
Jonathan C. Slaght, Minneapolis