Falco columbarius
A Merlin specimen on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

A medium-sized (10-13 ½ inches) falcon, the Merlin is most easily identified by its size, brown-streaked breast, and black tail bands. Other field marks include dark “moustaches” on the face, dark eyes, and yellow legs. Male Merlins have slate-gray backs, while females are larger and have dark brown backs. The Merlin is widely distributed across the Northern Hemisphere. In North America, three distinct populations of Merlin occur: a darker-plumaged subspecies inhabiting the Pacific Northwest, a paler-plumaged subspecies inhabiting the northern Great Plains, and an intermediate subspecies breeding primarily in Alaska and Canada. The first two subspecies are mostly non-migratory, while the third subspecies migrates south to the western United States, the Gulf and Atlantic coasts of the eastern U.S., and south into the tropics as far as northern South America. In the Old World, this species breeds from Iceland across to Siberia, wintering as far south as North Africa and tropical Asia. Merlins breed in open areas, including forest edges, tundra, coasts, and islands. This species utilizes similar habitats in winter as in summer, but may also enter urban areas if prey is available. Merlins primarily eat small birds, which they capture either from the ground or in the air. Due to this species’ preference for open habitat, Merlins may be most easily seen perching in prominent locations or while flying in pursuit of prey. Merlins may also hunt small shorebirds, flying close to the ground in order to surprise its prey. This species is primarily active during the day.

DC Information

An uncommon migrant, usually found along the barrier beaches of the Eastern Shore and in loblolly pine forests. Migrates through this region March to May and August to November. The female is larger than the male.

Specimen Information

Date:  9/7/1878
Collected By:  Mr. Hamilton
Locality:  Washington, DC
Sex:  Female
Catalog ID:  75357

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species