Details About The Merlin

  • General Information

    The Merlin is smaller than a Peregrine Falcon and larger than the American Kestrel. The adult male Merlin is blue-gray above and streaked below (gives a checker board appearance from below). The female is brown with a streaked breast. Juveniles resemble the adult females. Both sexes have long pointed wings and tapered tails that are boldly barred. All plumages lack the dark facial mustache markings of the Peregrine Falcon and the American Kestrel and instead have a faint malar stripe.

    Latin Name: Falco columbarius
    Class: Aves
    Order: Falconiformes
    Family: Falconidae
    Length: 9-12 inches
    Weight: 4.5-8.3 ounces
    Wingspan: 21-27 inches
    Common Name: Pigeon Hawk, Little Blue Corporal, Bullet Hawk
    Etymology: falco (Latin) - refers to sickle-shaped talons or the shape of the wings in flight; columbarius (Latin) - refers to dove or pigeon, which it resembles in flight

  • Flight, Voice & Habitat

    A Merlin's flight speed while flapping is 30-40 mph. They will soar low to the ground when hunting, plucking prey out of the air with their talons. This species soars on flat wings and glides on flat wings or with wrists lowered and wingtips up-curved. They hunt with short dashing flights with more rapid wing beat than Peregrine or Prairie Falcons.

    A Merlin's call is similar to the American Kestrel, a series of loud, crackling ki-ki-ki-ki-kee. The female food call is a series of eep-eep-eeeps.

    The Merlin prefers open grasslands, shrubby barrens and bogs and hunts around marshes and along edges of lakes and ponds.

  • Nesting

    They often use old nests of crows and hawks. The nest is usually 15-35 feet above the ground. The female will lay 2-7 eggs. The incubation period is 28-32 days, and the young fledge 25-30 days after hatching. The Merlin is primarily monogamous (nest fidelity), and sometimes will nest on ground, especially in the North.

  • Distribution

    The Merlin is found from Alaska to Nova Scotia, and California to Florida. However, it is very rare in the Midwest and the eastern seaboard states. They primarily breed throughout the northern regions in Alaska, most of Canada, parts of north and western United States.

  • Food

    When hunting, Merlins tend to soar low to the ground, plucking prey out of the air with their talons. They also use tail-chasing, power dives, ringing flight, and surprise attacks. This bird prefers tail chasing, tracking prey from behind and overcoming it with a great burst of speed. Merlins like to ambush prey, potentially while prey is eating or vulnerable. They can catch two birds at once. Merlins average 80% birds-larks, flickers, waxwings and sparrows. During migration along the coast, they eat more shorebirds. Their success rate catching birds is about 20-25%. Juveniles will often eat large numbers of dragonflies. During the winter and sometimes during breeding season, Merlins will cache food for later consumption.

  • Current Resident Birds

    Minna, the Merlin, spent a few years at North Carolina State University's Vet school before coming to live at CRC permanently in 2004. Merlins are a member of the Falcon family, and although they aren't found in NC year round they do migrate and spend the winter months here. Minna means "in loving memory."

    Our newest Merlin came to CRC and joined our Raptor Trail in 2017. He currently enjoys eating quail in the enclosure he shares with Minna.

  • Fun Facts & Other Interesting Information

    Female Merlins sit on the nest the majority of the time, with the males helping out a little bit. This means that Momma Merlin must sit on her eggs for the better part of the day every day – in rain, extreme heat, wind or other harsh conditions. You go, girl!

    The Merlin is quite unafraid, and will readily attack anything that moves conspicuously. Merlins have even been observed trying to “catch” automobiles and trains.