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Merlin

Falco columbarius ORDER: FALCONIFORMES FAMILY: FALCONIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Merlin Photo

Merlins are small, fierce falcons that use surprise attacks to bring down small songbirds and shorebirds. They are powerful fliers, but you can tell them from larger falcons by their rapid wingbeats and overall dark tones. Medieval falconers called them “lady hawks,” and noblewomen used them to hunt Sky Larks. Merlin populations have largely recovered from twentieth-century declines, thanks to a ban on the pesticide DDT and their ability to adapt to life around towns and cities.

Birdspotter recipe
Birdspotter 2013 photo contest

Calls

Both sexes give a shrill, chattering call that can last 4 seconds. It’s used in courtship as well as aggressive situations. Merlins also have a short chip note used as a contact call and in courtship displays. The male’s is higher pitched than the female’s.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Find This Bird

Merlins are widespread, particularly in migration and winter, but seeing them is unpredictable. They have two modes: scanning open areas patiently from a treetop, and cruising at top speed in pursuit of small birds. If a flock of foraging birds (particularly shorebirds) suddenly bursts into flight, a Merlin or other falcon may be the cause. Be ready to look quickly—Merlins cover a lot of ground and can be out of range in just a few seconds. Scanning treetops and low perches at forest edges, grasslands, or saltmarshes can also turn up a perched Merlin and the opportunity for a longer view. Merlins are also increasingly common around towns, where there is a steady supply of House Sparrows.