Common Name

Scientific Name


Photo by Unknown Photographer
Photo Courtesy of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

The merlin, Falco columbarius, occurs in northern coniferous forests around the world. In North America, it breeds across Canada and in the United States in Alaska and the northern Rocky Mountains. Populations in Canada and Alaska migrate south to winter in the western U. S., Mexico, and eastern coastal areas. Migrants may cross large bodies of water. During nonbreeding periods, a wide variety of habitats are used, including marshes, deserts, seacoasts, open woodlands, fields, and other open habitats. Breeding sites are usually in conifer woodland or wooded prairie and are frequently near water.

Nests are built in trees in abandoned crow, magpie, hawk, or squirrel nests, or sometimes in natural tree cavities, abandoned woodpecker holes, bare cliff ledges, or on the ground in the arctic. Birds frequently return to the same nesting area in successive years. Most eggs are laid in late May; clutches may contain between two and seven eggs, although usually three to five eggs are laid. Incubation lasts thirty-one or thirty-two days, and is done mostly by the female while the male brings food to the nest. Young fledge after twenty-five to thirty-five days, but remain dependent on their parents for food for two to five more weeks. Yearling males may help their parents raise young. The diet of this hawk consists primarily of small to medium-sized birds, often flocking species. Large flying insects may be important prey for young learning to hunt. At times, this bird may cache (store for late use) prey.


  • Sodhi, N. S., L. W. Oliphant, P. C. James, and I. G. Warkentin. 1993. Merlin (Falco columbarius). Birds of North America 44: 20 pp.

  • Baicich, P. J., and C. J. O. Harrison. 1997. A guide to the nests, eggs, and nestlings of North American Birds, Second Ed. Academic Press, San Diego. 347 pp.