On a Wing and a Prayer

In search of the Merlin falcon

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

David Drummond is for the birds. In a big way.

Drummond is the founder and executive director of the Merlin Falcon Foundation, a Bellingham-based nonprofit organization dedicated to research, education and preservation of these lesser-known relatives of the Peregrine Falcon.

Why the Merlin? Because, according to Drummond, little was known about this member of the falcon family that inhabits western Washington and British Columbia. Our temperate rainforests have been home to this reclusive bird for millennia, but it is rarely seen, a phantom among the cedars. The Merlin, you should pardon the expression, flies under the radar.

Back in 1983, Drummond was a wildlife biologist working on a Peregrine Falcon Study for the Lummi Nation.  In the course of his fieldwork he became enamored with the Peregrine’s smaller cousin, the Merlin. Less well known then the Peregrine (an endangered species), the Merlin “has a fearless presence and regal élan,” according to Drummond. The more he observed the Merlin, the more entranced he became.

“I am passionate about raptors,” he explains. “I seized the moment and dove in!”

As a wildlife biologist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), he felt there was a need to learn more about this songbird hunter.

“I requested support from the WDFW in 1988 to initiate an in-depth study of their breeding life history,” he recounts. “The lack of interest left me with an important career decision. I did not hesitate to leave my best job ever with this agency to begin a pioneering investigation ranging from Washington to Alaska on the west slope of the Cascade and Coast Mountains.”

Drummond founded the Merlin Falcon Foundation in 2003 and subsequently has launched the Coastal Forest Merlin Project (CFMP), a research and education program about the Merlin and its environment, living as a little-known backyard and wild lands neighbor. “Through the metaphoric Merlin’s eye we can see our shared ecology and survival needs,” Drummond says.

“No natural resource agencies were addressing the paucity of information about this fascinating falcon,” he says, “so I started the CFMP. Unless people notice and pursue their curiosity about kindred life forms and their communities, they will fall through the natural resource agency wildlife cracks.”

These days, Drummond wears two hats. “At the Foundation, as executive director, I perform most of the management and supervisor duties,” he explains. “As the Coastal Forest Merlin Project principal investigator, I conduct the majority of the field- and lab-work related research.”

He is quick to point out the work would not be possible without the efforts of volunteers and interns, who contribute to scientific papers and create power point presentations and videos for educational purposes.

According to Drummond, the foundation is looking for additional volunteers, as well as monetary donations. He’d like to make the Merlin a cause célèbre. “Only when the community is involved—and vested—with their ‘backyard’ will there be real change to our business-as-usual approach to the environment.”

To learn more about Drummond and his work, visit http://www.merlinfalconfoundation.org

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