Merlin (Falco columbarius)

Description
Merlin

Size

  • The merlin is a small falcon, about 30 centimetres (12 inches) long.

Appearance

  • A merlin can be readily identified by its long pointed wings, tail with strong black bars, and the absence of facial markings.
  • Plumage is generally dull brown or bluish. Adult males are powder blue, and females are brown on the crown, back and wings.
Distribution
  • Merlins range throughout North America, and can migrate as far south as South America in the winter.
Natural History

Habitat

  • In Alberta they are found in wooded courses in the south, and mixed-wood areas near water in the north.

Food

  • Prey is killed in the air in the same manner as by the larger peregrine falcon. Small birds are caught and often eaten on the wing.

When Active

  • A fairly common summer resident, the merlin winters normally in the southern United States and South America, but a few regularly overwinter in urban areas of the province (e.g., Edmonton).
Reproduction and Growth

Breeding Behavior

  • Nesting occurs in trees, usually in the abandoned nests of crows, magpies or other large birds.
  • Four to six reddish-brown eggs with dark brown markings are laid.
  • Merlins are fairly tolerant of humans and many will nest close to cities or farms. However, if the nest is approached too closely, the nesting pair will defend it vigorously.
Conservation and Management

Status

The merlin is classified as Secure in the current General Status of Alberta Wild Species report:

Current Management

Like all raptors in Alberta, the merlin is protected by the provincial Wildlife Act and classified as a non-game species.

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Page Information

Posted: Oct 14, 2009