Merlin

Falco columbarius
Prepared by: 
Ann Walton

Taiga Merlin  

  • Length: Male  9-11”, Female  11-12”
  • Wingspan: Male 21-23”, Female  24-27”
  • Weight: Male  150-210g., Female  189-255g.

Slightly larger and denser than the kestrel, the Taiga Merlin is a small, but powerfully built bird with the typical falcon shape.  The head is large in relationship to the body, with large, dark eyes, and a small, hooked beak.  The wings are long and pointed, and on perched birds, do not reach the tail tip.  The cere, eye ring, and legs are yellow.  The adult male is slate blue above, with a buffy eye line and cheek patch, and a faint mustachial mark.  The whitish underparts have reddish to dark brown streaking.  The tail is dark gray with three thin, bluish bands, and a wide white terminal band.  The head of the adult female is similar to that of the adult male, but the upperparts are brownish, sometimes with a grayish cast, and the upper tail coverts have a definite grayish appearance.  The brownish tail has three to four buffy bands, and a wide white terminal band.  The creamy underparts are heavily streaked with dark brown.  The immature Merlin is similar to the adult female, but lacks the grayish cast on the back and upper tail coverts.  

 

Subspecies: 
Nine recognized; three in NA: richardsoni, the Prairie form of the upper Great Plains area, the palest of the three; suckleyi, the Black form of the Pacific Northwest; and columbarius, the medium colored Taiga form inhabiting the rest of NA.
Distribution: 
Northern Hemisphere from far eastern Asia through Europe, Faeroes, Iceland, and NA, migrating to northern SA.
Habitat: 
Varied: from sea-level to tree-line in some mountain ranges; from boreal forest and tundra to deciduous parkland; also shrub-steppe, moorland, and open prairies. Trees and scrubby vegetation preferred, while completely ubiquitous in migration, often traveling along seacoasts.
Feeding: 
During breeding feeds almost entirely on small birds. After breeding and during migration feeds on larger birds (ex. sandpipers), bats, insects (ex. dragonflies and locusts), and small rodents. Using speed and surprise, the hunting strategy of the Merlin is a low, direct flight over woods or grasslands, or a sudden drop from a perch. The Merlin is fast enough to overtake swallows, swifts, and shorebirds.
Behavior: 
Active flight is direct, with strong, choppy wing beats. The Merlin soars on flat wings, with the tail slightly fanned. In a glide, the wrists are sometimes held below the body, with the wing tips curved upward. Often harasses larger birds, such as gulls and other raptors. Its typical vocalization is a rapid, high-pitched “ki-ki-ki.”
Breeding: 
Breed throughout Alaska, Canada, and in the mountainous and coastal areas of the northwestern United States. Nest in evergreen forest and sparse woodland edges, often using old stick nests of other birds, especially crows. Also use tree cavities or cliff ledges. They also nest on the ground, usually in a scrape made in thick vegetation. Breeding season March – May. Clutch consists of 3-6 smooth, pale-buff eggs heavily sprinkled with red or brown. First breeding occurs at one year of age. Both sexes incubate.
Movements: 
Migratory. In NA, move south to Venezuela, Ecuador, northern Peru and Brazil, and French Guiana; many off-shore sightings. Fall migration late August to late September. Spring movements mid-March to mid-April.
Status: 
Not globally threatened. Although there is a gradual loss of habitat in NA, the Merlin seems to be progressively adapting to more urban environments.