This small falcon appears darker and bulkier than the more common American Kestrel and its flight style is much more powerful and direct. Proportionally larger-headed and flatter-crowned than a kestrel. The single mustache mark is usually indistinct or lacking. Males are solid gray above and buffy below with darker streaks. The leg feathering usually has a rufous cast. Females are browner above and noticeably larger than males. All have dark tails with pale bands and a thin whitish terminal band. In flight, the wings are very broad at the base and show a finely checkered pattern below. Three races occur. On the most widespread, Taiga Merlin, males are slate gray; females are dark brown. The tail has three pale bands. Black Merlin males are charcoal gray; females are very dark brown. The tail has two bands which are usually partial or lacking. Prairie Merlin males are pale blue-gray, while the females are a warm brown. The tail has four pale bands.
Length: 28 (cm) Wingspan: 58 (cm)
A rapid keeee-kee-kee-kee-kee-kee-kee, a little less strident than American Kestrel.
Open forest, coasts, grasslands, agricultural land, urban areas.
Aggressively attacks other raptors. When hunting, they will typically perch atop the tallest available tree as they survey the landscape for prey. Often follow flocks of Dunlin and other mid-sized shorebirds during migration.
Catches mostly small birds on the wing approaching very rapidly at a flat angle, sometimes just a few feet off the ground. May take prey as large as a pigeon.
Newer birders tend to be startled by most of their early Merlins as they fly past; long-time observers see many more "teed up" in the middle distance in treetops, snags, on prominently jutting dead limbs, on fenceposts out in pastures, on breakwater boulders--or, more and more commonly, atop the tallest tree for six city blocks around. A good rule to follow in the colder months is to finish your birding anywhere in semi-open country by scanning all the likely-looking hawk perches within easy glassing. Pretend you're responsible for seeing all the raptors within that field of view. To spot a Merlin, imagine thinking like one.
Citation: Personal Experience. I observe this regularly, highly confident.
Expanded Life History
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