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Conservation status: Amber

The UK's smallest bird of prey, this compact, dashing falcon has a relatively long, square-cut tail and rather broad-based pointed wings, shorter than those of other falcons. Its wingbeat tends to be rapid with occasional glides, wings held close to the body. Its small size enables it to hover and hang in the breeze as it pursues its prey. In winter the UK population increases as most of the Icelandic breeding birds migrate to our warmer climate. Although recovering from a population crash in the late 20th century it is still on the Amber List.

Illustrations

Overview

Latin name

Falco columbarius

Family

Falcons and allies (Falconidae)

Where to see them

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 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. They can be found at roosts in reedbeds, bogs and on heaths, often with hen harriers.

When to see them

All year round. Birds leave their upland breeding areas between August and october, when N European birds also arrive here. They return again in April and May. In summer the RSPB reserves at Forsinard, Highland and Trumland(Orkney) have merlins. In winter they are regularly seen at: Elmley Marshes, Kent; Northward Hill, Kent; Martin Mere, Lancs; Marshside, Merseyside; Pulborough Brooks, Sussex; and Blacktoft Sands, Yorkshire.

What they eat

Mainly small birds

Population

EuropeUK breeding*UK wintering*UK passage*
-900-1,500 pairs--

Distribution

Key

Audio

Tayler Brooks, Xeno-canto

Similar birds