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Raptor Species
Falco columbarius

Class: Aves
Order: Falconiformes
Family: Falconidae
Subfamily: Falconinae
Genus: Falco

Length: 9-11 in. (male); 11-12 in. (female)
Weight: 4.5-6.6 oz. (male); 6.4-8.3 oz. (female)
Wingspan: 21-23 in. (male); 24-27 in. (female)

Common Names: pigeon hawk, little blue corporal, bullet hawk

Etymology: falco (Latin) - refers to sickle-shaped talons or the shape of the wings in flight; columbarius (Latin) - refers to dove or pigeon, which it resembles in flight

Description: Smaller than a peregrine falcon, larger than the American kestrel. The adult male merlin is blue-gray above and streaked below (gives a checker board appearance from below). The female is brown with a streaked breast. Juveniles resemble the adult females. Both sexes have long pointed wings and tapered tails that are boldly barred. All plumages lack the dark facial mustache markings of the peregrine falcon and the American kestrel and instead have a faint malar stripe.

Flight: Flight speed while flapping is 30-40 mph. Soars low to the ground when hunting, plucking prey out of the air with its talons. Soars on flat wings, glides on flat or with wrists lowered and wingtips up-curved. Hunts with short dashing flights, more rapid wing beat than peregrine or prairie falcons.

Voice: Similar to the American kestrel, a series of loud, crackling ki-ki-ki-ki-kee. The female food call is a series of eep-eep-eeeps.

Habitat: Open grasslands, shrubby barrens and bogs. Hunts around marshes and along edges of lakes and ponds.

Distribution: From Alaska to Nova Scotia, and California to Florida. However, very rare in the midwest and the eastern seaboard states. Circumboreal - breed in Alaska, most of Canada, parts of north and western United States.

Nesting: They often use old nests of crows and hawks. The nest is usually 15-35 feet above the ground. The female will lay 2-7 eggs. Incubation period is 28-32 days and the young fledge 25-30 days after hatching. Primarily monogamous (nest fidelity), sometimes nest on ground, especially north.

Food: When hunting, merlins tend to soar low to the ground, plucking prey out of the air with their talons. They also use tail-chasing, power dives, ringing flight and surprise attacks. Prefers tail chasing, tracking prey from behind and overcoming it with a great burst of speed. Merlins like to ambush prey, potentially while prey is eating or vulnerable. They can catch two birds at once. Merlins average 80% birds-larks, flickers, waxwings and sparrows. During migration along the coast, they eat more shorebirds. Their success rate catching birds is about 20-25%. Juveniles will often eat large numbers of dragonflies. During the winter and sometimes during breeding season, merlins will cache food for later consumption.