I do believe I saw a Merlin just outside Wellington yesterday. It was small like a kestrel, but dull brown not chestnut, and it darted up the road just above the tarmac with a few quick wing beats and a short glide type of flight. The chest was speckly like a kestrel too. It did a right angle turn and landed on a branch right next to the car. Beautiful little thing.
What you've just described is classic Sparrow Hawk behaviour?
That's what I thought at first, but when it landed next to the car, it seemed too small, and the chest was speckled rather than barred...
Great description of the raptor and its behaviour - well done. As Gerry has said, everything you've described fits Sparrowhawk perfectly, not Merlin.
From the details you've given, I think it's very likely that the bird you saw was a second calendar year, male, Sparrowhawk.
A hawk hatched last year would still be in its juvenile plumage, hence the dull brown upperparts and the 'speckled' breast, which will only become barred when it moults into adult plumage. Some male Sparrowhawks are very small indeed, and can sometimes appear even smaller than Merlin in the field.
Thanks again for sharing your observation. Sparrowhawks are always exciting raptors to see, especially when they're hunting with that ground-hugging flight.
Thank you, I will bare that in mind.
Received a wonderful email from Doug Miller with a picture of a first year male. The chest and face certainly look the same, pity I didnt think to look at his legs...lol Thanks for being so helpful everyone.
Also if you see it well enough, check the eyes as well as the legs. The pale eyes of a Sparrowhawk can show up even from a distance and the Merlin has dark eyes.