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Merlin Falco columbarius


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Merlin, male
credit: Raj Boora/CCSA

© Lang Elliot/ (audio)

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Family: Falconidae, Falcons view all from this family

Description ADULT MALE Has blue-gray upperparts and buffy, streaked, and spotted underparts. In flight, and from above, blue-gray back, inner wings, and tail contrast with dark wingtips and dark terminal band on tail. ADULT FEMALE Has brown upperparts and pale underparts with large, brown spots. In flight, from above, upperparts are rather uniform brown with numerous faint bars on wings and tail; from below, body is streaked, while tail is distinctly barred. JUVENILE Similar to adult counterparts.

Dimensions Length: 10-14" (25-36 cm); Wngspn: 23" (58 cm)

Habitat Widespread and fairly common in open country. In region covered by this book mainly a summer visitor to Canada (present mostly May-Aug) and winter visitor to U.S.; widespread in winter in west, but in east mainly associated with coastal and southern states.

Observation Tips Easiest to find in winter.

Range Alaska, Southeast, Southwest, Eastern Canada, California, Western Canada, Mid-Atlantic, Florida, Great Lakes, Rocky Mountains, Northwest, Texas, New England, Plains

Voice Mainly silent although a shrill kee-kee-kee is uttered in alarm.

Discussion Small falcon, often seen flying low over ground in dashing hunting flight while pursuing small bird prey. Perches for extended periods on lookout, using fence posts or rocky outcrops. Soaring Merlin could perhaps be confused in silhouette for a small Peregrine, but its low, dashing flight is vaguely reminiscent of Sharp-shinned Hawk. Sexes are dissimilar and northern birds ("Taiga Merlin," ssp. columbarius) are smaller and darker than birds breeding further south ("Prairie Merlin," ssp. richardsoni); Pacific Northwest residents ("Black Merlin," ssp. suckleyi) are darker overall still but occur outside range covered by this book. The following descriptions apply to ssp. columbarius.