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Merlins, Falco columbarius

Merlin perched on a fallen tree trunk in a thicket

Merlins are small falcons found in different habitats across the Northern Hemisphere. They occupy boreal forests, open woodlands, savannas, shrublands, coastal areas, and even urban environments such as parks and gardens in Europe, Asia, northern Africa and in North America from Alaska and Canada down to Mexico. They are adaptable birds that can thrive in various landscapes as long as there is suitable prey availability and suitable nesting sites.

Merlins have relatively short, rounded wings and a long tail. The plumage of Merlins varies depending on the subspecies and region but generally consists of a combination of dark brown, gray, and rust-colored feathers. They have a distinctive facial pattern with a dark mustache-like stripe on their face.

They are vocal birds and emit sharp, chattering calls during flight and when defending their territory. They are known for their aggressive behavior, often challenging other birds intruding into their territory.

Merlins are fast and agile hunters, known for their remarkable aerial pursuits. They primarily feed on small to medium-sized birds, capturing them in flight. Their diet includes songbirds, shorebirds, and occasionally bats and insects. Merlins employ high-speed dives and swift, acrobatic flight maneuvers to surprise and capture their prey. They can also hunt from perches and use strategic ambush tactics.

Merlins typically nest in tree cavities, cliffs, or abandoned nests of other birds such as crows or hawks. They do not build their own nests but utilize existing structures. They may also use man-made structures like nest boxes or buildings. The female selects the nesting site, often choosing locations that provide good visibility and protection for their young.

Females usually lay 3 to 5 eggs at intervals of one to two days. Incubation lasts approximately 28 to 32 days, primarily carried out by the female while the male provides food. After hatching, both parents participate in raising and feeding the young. The parents tear up prey into small pieces and deliver it to the nest. The young Merlins grow rapidly, and they fledge the nest around 25 to 35 days after hatching.

The fledging period for Merlins occurs approximately one month after hatching. Once the young Merlins fledge, they become independent and start to explore their surroundings. They continue to be fed and receive guidance from their parents for a short period before becoming proficient hunters themselves.

Merlins are partially migratory birds, with some individuals and populations undertaking seasonal migrations. Northern populations often migrate southward during winter to find more favorable foraging conditions.