Merlin

Falco columbarius

Order

FALCONIFORMES

Family

Caracaras and Falcons (Falconidae)

Code 4

MERL

Code 6

FALCOL

ITIS

Egg Color:

White, sometimes marked with red brown.



Number of Eggs:

2 - 7



Incubation Days:

28 - 32



Egg Incubator:

Female



Nest Location:

Nest is 15 to 35 feet above ground.



Nest Material:

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



Migration:

Migratory



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General

Merlin: Small stocky falcon. Sexes and races generally similar in pattern but vary widely in coloration: solid upperparts and streaked underparts; white throat, eye ring, and eyebrow; underwings checkered; and banded tail. Male Taiga has blue-gray upperparts; brown-streaked breast and belly, and barred flanks. Male Pacific race is very dark blue-gray above, with dark, heavy markings on underparts. Male Prairie race is intermediate. Females of all races are larger and browner. Juveniles of both sexes very similar to females. Feeds on small to medium-sized birds, mostly caught in midair. Wingbeats are powerful and deep, but quick.

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.

Vocalization

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.

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UnderpartsX

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

UpperpartsX
Back, rump, hindneck, wings, and crown.
BellyX
The ventral part of the bird, or the area between the flanks on each side and the crissum and breast. Flight muscles are located between the belly and the breast.
BreastX
The upper front part of a bird.
Eye ringX
The circle around the eye formed of feathers that are a different color from the rest of the face.
Parts of a Standing bird X
Head Feathers and Markings X
Parts of a Flying bird X