|Size:||Length: 10 to 14 inches (25 to 35 cm) Wingspan: 24 to 27 inches (61 to 69 cm)|
|Weight:||5 to 8 ounces (142 to 227 grams)|
|Diet:||Small birds, small mammals, snakes and lizards and insects|
|Distribution:||North America, Europe and Asia|
|Young:||2 to 7 chicks, once a year|
|IUCN Status:||No special status|
|Lifespan:||Oldest recorded was 10.5 years|
· The merlin is also known as a pigeon hawk, but is a member of the falcon family.
· The Dutch name for a merlin is “smelleken.”
· Considered a lady’s gaming bird, merlins are usually returned to the wild after one season.
· An adult merlin needs 35 to 50 grams of food per day.
Merlins are like small peregrine falcons—they are very similar in behaviour and appearance. Their large dark eyes are rimmed with yellow. Males have blue-grey back and tail feathers, while females have brown feathers. Both have white undersides with brown streaks. Females are larger than males.
These small falcons have a wide range, but are uncommon. They can be found in North America, mostly in Canada and the extreme northern U.S., but wintering as far south as California and Mexico. Merlins also range through northern Europe and Asia, wintering in the Middle East, southern Asia and northernmost tip of Africa. Merlins can usually be found in areas with plenty of wide-open spaces, such as the seashore, moors, sand dunes and deserts.
Merlins are fierce and aggressive hunters that can take down larger species than themselves, but the bulk of their diet consists of small birds. They also prey on small mammals, snakes, lizards and even insects.
Merlins pair off for a season and remain together while they raise their young. In some cases, they winter together, but in spring, males are the first to return home and usually go back to the same territory each year, although they generally have a new nest. A couple from the previous season may join up again, or each may find a new mate. After mating, the female lays one egg every two days to a maximum of seven, but the usual clutch size is four to six. The buff-coloured eggs are covered with flecks of darker colours. The female begins to incubate as soon as the first egg appears, and the male brings food back for her. He aggressively protects the nest from intruders of any size or species, attacking them if they get too close. The eggs begin to hatch in 25 days in the order they were laid. The chicks develop quills in 14 days and at 18 days they have feathers almost covering their entire bodies. At that point, the female may leave them alone for short periods while she hunts for food. The youngsters begin to fly when they reach 25 days. At a month and a half, they can find insects for themselves, and they leave the nest at two months, but remain nearby until the annual migration to the south begins. The survival rate to adulthood for young merlins is an average of three from one clutch. This high rate is mostly due to their parents watching closely to make sure no predators can get near them when they are too small to defend themselves, and the exceptional aggressiveness of the parents towards intruders.
Merlins are usually solitary birds, but can sometimes be seen hunting in pairs. They do not make much noise, unless they are threatened or disturbed, or if anyone approaches their nest.
Merlins are not considered a conservation concern.
Merlin Wildlife Fact File, IM Pub, US