Merlins are small falcons that fly very fast.1 They stand between 9 inches and a foot tall and weigh between a quarter of a pound and half a pound. They prefer to live in habitats that are open, and you can usually find them throughout North America in Canada and the United States, including Alaska. They can also be found in Europe and Asia.2
These birds are so named Merlin, not after the wizard, but from the French word esmerillon, which translates to falcon.3 These birds were also once known as the pigeon hawk because they fly in a similar way. They don’t soar as much as other birds do, and instead flap their wings and then glide.2
Merlins eat smaller birds that they will capture in the air.1 They don’t dive for their prey like Peregrine Falcons would, but will hunt from a perch or fly between the trees, gaining speed so they can ram into their prey.1&3 Merlins will eat around 900 birds a year.2
There are ten subspecies of Merlin globally.2 Most of them migrate – some going as far south as South America.1 In the Fall, the females will start to migrate first, while in the Spring, the males will go first.2
These birds are also well known because they were used in falconry by both Catherine the Great of Russia and Mary Queen of Scots.2
Merlins don’t live very long. Around five years is usually the maximum. This is because they run into things like cars or buildings.2 Just like many birds before them, they declined sharply between the 1950s and the 1970s because of the pesticide DDT, which affected their reproductive systems. Since the termination of the use of DDT, they have increased their numbers, although they still face threats from habitat loss.2
Did you catch our latest blog on what a bird's talons say about them? Read it here!