Merlin

Merlin

Scientific name: Falco columbarius

Did you know: Merlins were once colloquially known as “pigeon hawks” in North America due to their agile flying style resembling that of pigeons.

What Do Merlins Look Like? (how to identify them)

Merlins, small yet robust falcons, are a sight to behold. Males typically boast wingspans of 53–58 centimetres, with females slightly larger. 

These swift fliers display a striking blue-grey back in males, while females and young are more brownish-grey. They are easily recognised by their unique tail pattern, featuring 3-4 wide black bands.

Differences Between Male And Female Merlins

Male Merlins have a more pronounced blue-grey back and lighter underparts streaked with black or reddish brown. Females are generally larger and have browner upper parts with more heavily streaked underparts. 

Both sexes share similar facial markings, lacking the prominent malar stripe common in other falcons.

What Do Merlins Eat?

As skilled hunters, Merlins specialise in preying on small birds, ranging from sparrows to quail. They also supplement their diet with insects, small mammals, and occasionally reptiles and amphibians. Merlins are known for their agile hunting techniques, often capturing prey mid-air.

Where Do Merlins Live? (inc. migration info)

Merlins breed in the northern Holarctic and are migratory, travelling to subtropical and northern tropical regions in winter. In the UK, they prefer open country like moorlands for breeding. Their migration begins in late February, with most reaching their breeding grounds by May.

Bird Calls & Songs (the unique voices of Merlins)

Merlins are not particularly vocal, but their calls are distinctive. The male’s call is a short, staccato ‘ki-ki-ki’, while the female has a deeper, more nasal ‘kee-kee-kee’. These calls are often heard during their breeding season.

Fun Merlin Facts (kid friendly)

  • Merlins can reach speeds of up to 50 kilometres per hour.
  • They don’t build their own nests, but rather use old ones left by other birds.
  • Merlins are the UK’s smallest birds of prey.
  • These falcons were once a popular choice in mediaeval falconry, especially for ladies.
  • The oldest known wild Merlin lived up to 13 years.
  • In flight, Merlins look similar to pigeons, which is why they were called “pigeon hawks” in North America.
  • Female Merlins are significantly larger than males, which is common among birds of prey.
  • They can catch one in every two prey they target under good conditions.
  • Merlins have been known to occasionally take prey as large as ducks.
  • These birds were once depicted in the famous Birds of America book by John James Audubon.

Facts About The Merlin

Diet: Mainly small birds.
Bird Family: Falcons
Length: 25-30cm
Wingspan: 50-62cm
Weight: 125-234g (male); 164-300g (female)
Scientific Name: Falco columbarius

The Merlin Can Be Seen In The UK During The Following Months

  • January
  • February
  • March
  • April
  • May
  • June
  • July
  • August
  • September
  • October
  • November
  • December

Merlin Images

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Male
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Female
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Hatchling
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Nestling
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Chick
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Fledgling
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Juvenile