Will you help us identify the hawk we spotted in our backyard? We were thrilled to see it until we realized it was hunting the birds at our feeder, so we took down the feeder until the hawk left. Is there anything else we should have done?
—Robert Keller, Scottsbluff, Nebraska
George: I believe that your large visitor was a merlin, which is a type of falcon. Often mistaken for goshawks, which have short, rounded wings and very long tails, merlins have dark eyes and long, pointed wings. Occasionally, these raptors will move south in search of food, which includes songbirds, squirrels and rabbits. Because the bird was just passing through, the most damage it could have done was to take a couple of mourning doves or juncos. Witnessing a falcon hunt your favorite songbirds can be upsetting, but it's important to remember that they have to eat, too. If you'd like to help protect your songbirds against future predators, provide dense shrubs for cover near the feeders. Small birds can retreat into the branches for protection.