The merlin (Falco columbarius) is a small but fierce falcon from the Northern Hemisphere. It is a swift flier and skilled hunter and has for centuries been well regarded as a falconry bird.
Diurnal animals are active during the daytime, with a period of sleeping or other inactivity at night. The timing of activity by an animal depends ...
A carnivore meaning 'meat eater' is an organism that derives its energy and nutrient requirements from a diet consisting mainly or exclusively of a...
Terrestrial animals are animals that live predominantly or entirely on land (e.g., cats, ants, snails), as compared with aquatic animals, which liv...
Arboreal locomotion is the locomotion of animals in trees. In habitats in which trees are present, animals have evolved to move in them. Some anima...
Altricial animals are those species whose newly hatched or born young are relatively immobile. They lack hair or down, are not able to obtain food ...
Predators are animals that kill and eat other organisms, their prey. Predators may actively search for or pursue prey or wait for it, often conceal...
Congregatory animals tend to gather in large numbers in specific areas as breeding colonies, for feeding, or for resting.
Oviparous animals are female animals that lay their eggs, with little or no other embryonic development within the mother. This is the reproductive...
Pursuit predation is a form of predation in which predators actively give chase to their prey, either solitarily or as a group. Pursuit predators r...
Serial monogamy is a mating system in which a pair bonds only for one breeding season.
Animal migration is the relatively long-distance movement of individual animals, usually on a seasonal basis. It is the most common form of migrati...
The male merlin has a blue-grey back, ranging from almost black to silver-grey in different subspecies. Its underparts are buff- to orange-tinted and more or less heavily streaked with black to reddish brown. The female and immature are brownish-grey to dark brown above, and whitish buff spotted with brown below. Besides a weak whitish supercilium and the faint dark malar stripe - which are barely recognizable in both the palest and the darkest birds - the face of the merlin is less strongly patterned than in most other falcons. The eye and beak are dark, the latter with a yellow cere. The feet are also yellow, with black claws. Nestlings are covered in pale buff down feathers, shading to whitish on the belly.
Merlins are found throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Most of the populations are migratory, wintering in warmer regions. Northern European birds move to southern Europe and North Africa, and North American populations to the southern United States and to northern South America. Merlins inhabit fairly open country, such as willow or birch scrub, and shrubland, but also taiga forest, parks, and grasslands such as steppe and prairies, sand dunes, deserts, or moorland. In general, they prefer a mix of low and medium-height vegetation with some trees and avoid dense forests as well as treeless arid regions.
Merlins usually lead a solitary life outside of the breeding season. However, in the winter they may roost communally or sometimes migrate in loose groups. They start migrating to the breeding grounds in late February. Migration to winter quarters at least in Eurasia peaks in August/September. Merlins are diurnal hunters and rely on speed and agility to hunt their prey. They often hunt by flying fast and low, typically less than 1 m (3.3 ft) above the ground, using trees and large shrubs to take prey by surprise. But they actually capture most prey in the air, and will "tail-chase" startled birds. Breeding pairs will frequently hunt cooperatively, with one bird flushing the prey toward its mate. Merlins communicate vocally and are usually noisy near the nest and during the displays. When alarmed birds produce 'kikiki' or 'kekeke' shrills.
Merlins are carnivores and specialize in preying on small birds including sparrows, quail, larks, or pipits. Larger birds and other animals such as insects (especially dragonflies and moths), small mammals like bats and voles, and reptiles complement their diet as well.
Merlins are serially monogamous and pairs form for one season only. Their breeding season occurs typically in May-June and during this time birds perform aerial courtship displays. Merlins do not build nests but mainly use abandoned crow or hawk nests which are located in conifer or mixed tree stands. In moorland-particularly in the UK- females usually make a shallow scrape in dense heather to use as a nest. Others nest in crevices on cliff-faces and on the ground, and some may even use buildings. The female lays 3 to 6 (usually 4 or 5) rusty brown eggs. She incubates them within 28 to 32 days while the male hunts to feed the family. Hatchlings weigh about 13 g (0.46 oz) and fledge after another 30 days or so. They are dependent on their parents for up to 4 more weeks. Sometimes first-year merlins (especially males) will serve as a "nest helper" for an adult pair. Merlins become reproductively mature at one year of age and usually attempt to breed right away.
The most serious threat to merlins is habitat destruction, especially in their breeding areas. These birds also suffer collision with man-made objects, particularly during attacks, from pesticides and human disturbances.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total merlin population size is around 250,000-3,200,000 mature individuals. Overall, currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are stable.