The Merlin (Falco columbarius) is a speedy small falcon, similar in shape to the peregrine but only two thirds the size. Seen in the summer flying low over upland heath and moorland, moving to the coast in the winter. The Merlin often flies with very fast wing beats interspersed with short ‘closed wing glides’.
Adult males have a blue-grey tail with a black terminal band and grey upper wings with a darker outer wing. The breast is finely streaked and has an orange colouring, the throat is white. The female, who is larger than the male, has brown upper parts and a heavily barred tail, the breast is paler with darker, heavier streaking than that of the male. Juveniles closely resemble the female and are very difficult to differentiate.
Length: 25-31cm; wingspan: 50-62cm
In general Merlins are ground nesting birds; however, they will nest in the abandoned nests of other raptors or corvids. They have also started to make use of conifer plantation edges as nesting sites. Birds typically breed at one year of age, laying a single clutch of 4-5 eggs.
Small birds are hunted from perches and taken in flight.
Habitat and Distribution
Mainly breeds in the uplands of Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and northern England, although small numbers also nest in the SW of England.
Status in UK
1,330 pairs, increasing; AMBER listed; resident Population Trends
The Merlin suffered badly from the effects of organochlorine pesticides in the 1950’s and did not show significant signs of recovery until the 1980’s; it still suffers from persecution and loss of habitat. Increases in population may be linked to a change in behaviour with some birds using forest edges as breeding sites as opposed to open moorland and heathland. Even though the population is rising slowly the Merlin still remains a rare and elusive bird.