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Merlin.  Falco columbarius                        

‘The Ladies Hawk’

IDENTIFICATION. The Merlin is the smallest of the British falcons. Like Kestrels the plumage of male and female Merlin's differ from each other. The male, or 'Jack', have a blue grey top to the head, blue grey back and tail. The tail has a black bar just before the tip. The chin and chest are creamy, becoming more rufous toward the legs. Females are of similar size to the males, but with brown plumage. The facial moustache is less defined than on other falcons.

The females can be mistaken for female Kestrels.

IN FLIGHT. The Merlin's style of flight is generally low and fast. The wing beats are quick with very few glides.  Merlin's rarely soar although in pursuit of Skylarks warm updrafts of air may be used to gain height. Prey is generally caught after a furious, twisting tail chase.

DISTRIBUTION. Widespread across the country although not commonly seen. Prefers moorland with plenty of heather. In winter the Merlin will move to the less bleak hunting grounds of coastal wetlands and water meadows.

WHEN SEEN. All year round.

FOOD. Mainly small birds, although the odd rodent and insect may be taken.

BREEDING. May. 5 to 6 mottled brown eggs are laid in rough heather or in an abandoned tree nest. Female incubates the eggs for 28 to 32 days, flying 25 - 30 days later.

SIZE. 27-33cm (10-13in)

WEIGHT. 100g-250g (4oz - 9oz)

WINGSPAN. 50cm - 62cm (1ft 8in- 2ft)

CALL. ki-ki-ki-ki


The most notable thing about a Merlin is its famed ‘ringing up’ flight in pursuit of Skylarks. This is sometimes followed by a stoop onto its prey. Licenses are required to hunt Skylarks and these may be obtain for the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs.

Being light weight the Merlin can also be flown from the fist without the need for painkillers at the end of the day. Be careful, the Merlin's weight can make them prone to going underweight when flown and therefore easily killed. If buying this little falcon the slightly larger female would be more sensible.

A better proposition than a Kestrel or Hobby, being easier to man, train and fly to the lure. Although sometimes difficult to keep hunting in second and third seasons.

NB. If you buy one of these raptors it should be fitted with a closed leg ring and have an Article 10 form with it (any queries check with DEFRA).

Falconry marks

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