Merlin - Falco columbarius

    Alt Name
    Pigeon Hawk

    Our smallest falcon with a flight similar to Peregrine. The Merlin has the pointed wings of a Kestrel but is smaller and shorter tailed with dark duller plumage. It flies with great speed and agility using quick shallow wing-beats. At close range its moustache is less obvious than on any other British falcon. Adult males are slate blue above with a black tip to the tail: females and immature birds are a dull dark brown above, heavily streaked below. The Merlin relies on speed and agility to hunt their prey of small birds. They often hunt by flying fast and low, typically less than a metre above the ground, using trees and large shrubs to take prey by surprise as they take flight.

    Photo ID?

    Open moorland, grassland and heathland and open coniferous forests.

    When to see it

    All year round. Birds leave their upland breeding areas between August and October, when North European birds also arrive here. They return again in April and May. The UK breeding population is at the south-west extremity of the Merlin's European range and is thinly scattered across upland moorland from south-west England north to Shetland. In the winter birds leave upland areas and come down to inland lowland and coastal areas. They can be seen in almost any open country but are often found near coasts.

    Life History

    A majority of Merlins in the UK nest on the ground with nest concealed in heather. Ground nesting is unique to the UK population - their continental counterparts rarely do so. Since the late 1970s, they have started to nest in trees on edges of conifer plantations, feeding on neighbouring open ground. This change in nest site choice mirrors their continental counterparts, and may assist the species to extend its range to new areas. In winter the UK population increases as most of the Icelandic breeding birds migrate to our warmer climate

    UK Status

    A migrant/resident breeder, and a bird of passage and winter visitor Less than 13,000 breeding pairs. Although recovering from a population crash in the late 20th century it is still on the Amber List

    VC55 Status

    Scarce winter and passage visitor, recorded in all months from August to May, with the majority from October to February. A typical sighting of a Merlin in VC55 is a brief view of a single bird zipping across open countryside.

    Leicestershire & Rutland Map

    UK Map