Falco columbarius – Merlin

Falco columbarius - Merlin in the US

Known as the merlin, Falco columbarius is a tiny falcon found in North America and Eurasia in the family of Falconidae. The merlin is a raptor that nests in the northern Holarctic and migrates to subtropical and northern tropical areas in the winter. Males have wingspans of 53–58 cm (21–23 in), females are somewhat bigger. They are excellent hunters who feed on tiny birds ranging from sparrows to quail.

Quick Overview: Falco columbarius – Merlin
Body size: Around 11-13 in (28-33 cm) and a weight of 210 g (7.4 oz)
Main colors: Blue, Purple, Brown, Black, White, Yellow
Range: Throughout the United States
Migratory Bird: Yes
Best time of the year to see in the U.S.: January, February, December
Conservation Status: Least Concern

Merlin Description

Males merlin have blue, purple, or dark umber-brown upper parts with black streaks from the head to the shoulders and back. The tail is white with dark umber-brown or blackish streaks. Except for the throat, which is unmarked white, the underparts are cream to a rich buff with dark umber-brown or black longitudinal streaks. The face is buff with faint darker streaks. The forehead and eyelids are white. This bird’s beak is blue, its cere and feet yellow, its claws black, and its iris brown.

Falco columbarius - Merlin in the US
Falco columbarius – Merlin. Photo by: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region

Size

These birds have a length of 11-13 in (28-33 cm) and a weight of 210 g (7.4 oz). Their wings could range from 23-26 in (58-66 cm).

Feeding

Merlins eat larks (Alaudidae), sparrows (Passeridae and Emberizidae), finches (Fringillidae), ptarmigans, and grouse (Tetraoninae). Small animals, lizards, snakes, insects, and, in North America, dragonflies are also eaten. The proportions are around 80% birds, 5% mammals, and 15% insects.

Habitat

There are no known threats to Merlins in the wild. Merlins seldom dwell in woods, although they breed in coniferous forests in the Northern Hemisphere.

Behavior

It is a solitary bird except during breeding season. During this time, the male and female raise the young. The female stays on the nest while the male hunts. The male rarely visits the nest, leaving them prey for the female to retrieve. When the pups are older, both sexes hunt.

Falco columbarius Scientific Classification

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Subphylum: Chelicerata
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Falconiformes
  • Family: Falconidae
  • Genus: Falco
  • Species: Falco columbarius

Best time of the year to see

The best time to see these birds in the United States is during the winter season (December to February).

Distribution of the Merlin in the USA

Falco columbarius spends the summer in eastern Canada, south through Michigan, west to the Great Plains. and throughout the United States during winter. The Falco columbarius summer range covers western North America. Southern California, northern Mexico, and southern Texas.

The merlin can be found in the following states in the United States – Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Falco columbarius – Merlin

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