Photo: Kyle_Lima/Great Backyard Bird Count Participant

Merlin

Falco columbarius

A rather small falcon, compact and fast-flying, the Merlin is a common breeder across the northern forests of North America and Eurasia. It feeds mostly on small birds, capturing them in mid-air in rapid pursuit. The Merlin is generally found in wild places, but since about 1960 it has become a common urban bird in several towns on the northern prairies; there it nests and remains to winter, relying on a steady supply of House Sparrows as prey.
Conservation status Has increased in numbers in some parts of range, especially the northern plains, and has expanded into new nesting areas, where it often nests in towns and suburbs. Most North American populations seem to be either stable or increasing.
Family Falcons
Habitat Open conifer woodland, prairie groves; in migration, also foothills, marshes, open country. Generally breeds in semi-open terrain having trees for nest sites and open areas for hunting. Habitat varies from coniferous forest in north and on northwest coast to isolated deciduous groves and suburban yards on prairies. May winter in more open areas, such as grasslands, coastal marshes.
A rather small falcon, compact and fast-flying, the Merlin is a common breeder across the northern forests of North America and Eurasia. It feeds mostly on small birds, capturing them in mid-air in rapid pursuit. The Merlin is generally found in wild places, but since about 1960 it has become a common urban bird in several towns on the northern prairies; there it nests and remains to winter, relying on a steady supply of House Sparrows as prey.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male
  • adult female
  • juvenile
  • adult male
  • adult male
Feeding Behavior

Does most hunting by watching from a perch, then flying out to capture prey in the air. Also hunts by flying low among trees or over ground, taking prey by surprise; seldom dives steeply from above to capture prey. Birds, insects, and bats are usually caught in mid-air.


Eggs

4-5, sometimes 2-6. Whitish, lightly or heavily marked with reddish-brown. Incubation is mostly by female, 28-32 days; male brings food to female, then he incubates while she eats. Young: Female remains with young most of time, brooding them when they are small. Male brings food, female takes it from him near nest and then feeds it to young. Age of young at first flight about 29 days.


Young

Female remains with young most of time, brooding them when they are small. Male brings food, female takes it from him near nest and then feeds it to young. Age of young at first flight about 29 days.

Diet

Mostly small birds. Often specializes on locally abundant species of birds (such as Horned Larks on the plains, House Sparrows in urban settings, small sandpipers on coast). Also feeds on large insects (especially dragonflies), rodents, bats, reptiles.


Nesting

In courtship, male performs spectacular flight displays, with steep dives, strong twisting flight, glides, rolling from side to side, fluttering with shallow wingbeats. Male brings food and presents it to female. Nest site is usually in tree in old nest of hawk, crow, or magpie, 10-60' above ground. Sometimes in large tree cavity, on cliff ledge, or on ground. Usually little or no material added to existing nest.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Most Merlins migrate, some northern birds reaching South America. Those of Pacific Northwest (race suckleyi) are mostly permanent residents. Some prairie birds (race richardsonii) have become permanent residents in cities on northern plains during recent decades, while others there still migrate.

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Migration

Most Merlins migrate, some northern birds reaching South America. Those of Pacific Northwest (race suckleyi) are mostly permanent residents. Some prairie birds (race richardsonii) have become permanent residents in cities on northern plains during recent decades, while others there still migrate.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
High, loud cackle, also klee-klee-klee like an American Kestrel, but usually silent.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Falcons Hawk-like Birds

Merlin

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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