Falco columbarius




Caracaras and Falcons (Falconidae)

Code 4


Code 6



Egg Color:

White, sometimes marked with red brown.

Number of Eggs:

2 - 7

Incubation Days:

28 - 32

Egg Incubator:


Nest Location:

Nest is 15 to 35 feet above ground.

Nest Material:

Uses old tree nests of crows, magpies, and hawks.





Merlin: Small stocky falcon with blue-gray upperparts and white to pale brown underparts with streaks ranging from heavy and dark to pale buff and lightly streaked; pale bands on tail. Throat, eye-ring and line above eye are white. Bill is dark gray and cere above bill is yellow. Tail is brown or black barred and white-tipped. Feet are yellow. Pacific race is dark gray, nearly black. Prairie race is paler gray. Taiga race is intermediate. Female is browner, without blue tones. Juveniles of all races are similar to the female, but duller.

Range and Habitat

Merlin: Breeds from Alaska east through southern Nunavut to Newfoundland and south to Wyoming, Montana, and northern New England. Spends winters mainly in the southern U.S. north along the west coast up to British Columbia and on the east coast to southern New England. Preferred habitats include coniferous forests.

Breeding and Nesting

Merlin: Two to seven white eggs, sometimes marked with reddish-brown, are laid in a tree cavity without nesting materials added. This bird occasionally uses a rocky ledge or abandoned bird nests. A clutch of four to five eggs is normally laid during May. The female performs the majority of the incubation, which lasts about 30 days, and only briefly leaves the nest to feed.

Foraging and Feeding

Merlin: These merlins prey mainly on small birds such as larks, swallows, finches, and occasionally ptarmigan. They will also eat small mammals, lizards, snakes and insects, especially dragonflies. They are opportunistic hunters; both adults and yearlings feed on flying insects, especially in late summer and during migration.


Merlin: Generally silent, but will emit a high, loud cackle that sounds like "klee-klee-klee."

Similar Species

Merlin: American Kestrel has two moustache stripes, red-brown head, narrower wings, and lacks the checkerboard pattern of underwings. Peregrine Falcon is much larger with bolder moustache stripe and less checkered underwings. Prairie Falcon has a bolder moustache stripe, white between eye and moustache stripe, and black axillars.


Belly, undertail coverts, chest, flanks, and foreneck.

Back, rump, hindneck, wings, and crown.
Also called the operculum, it is a smooth and featherless patch of skin located where the beak attaches to the forehead.
Parts of a Standing bird X
Head Feathers and Markings X
Parts of a Flying bird X