Merlin (Falco columbarius)





Description - Characteristics: Merlin


Breeding – Clutch – Measurements – Habitat – Diet - Threats



Order: Falconiformes

Family: Falconidae

Genus: Falco

Species: Merlin


Scientific Name: Falco columbarius


Names and Synonyms of the Merlin


Name in German: Merlin

Name in Czech: Dřemlík tundrový

Name in Slovak: Sokol kobec

Name in Hungarian: Kis sólyom

Name in Croat: Mali Sokol

Artname in Französisch: Faucon émerillon

Name in Spanish: Esmerejón

Name in Portuguese: Esmerilhão

Artname in Dutch: Smelleken

Name in Greek: Νανογέρακο, Νανοφάλκονο

Name in Finnish: Ampuhaukka

Name in Norwegian: Dvergfalk

Name in Danish: Dværgfalk

Artname in Swedish: Stenfalk

Artname in Finnisch: Ampuhaukka

Artname in Dänisch: Dværgfalk

Artname in Polnisch: Drzemlik

Name in Russian: Дербник

Name in Turkey: Boz doğan, Boz Doşan, Güvercin Doğanı, Тұрымтай

Name in Kazakh: Жағалтай, Тұрымтай

Name in Arabic: الشاهين الصغير, اليؤيؤ, اليؤيؤ أسود الذيل, اليؤيؤ أسود الذيل شويهين, يؤيؤ

Name in Hebrew: בז גמד, בז גמדי


Characteristics of the Merlin


Distribution: Holarctic distribution: North America, Iceland, Scotland; Ireland and Norway, Sweden, Finland, north Russia, Siberia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Baltics.


Movements: Most populations are migratory. British populations usually stay in the breeding area and only migrate in extreme cold weather.


Wintering: In Winter northern Neotropical and marginally Indomalayan. Wintering area begins south of Britian and Scandinavia stretching southwards throughout Europe, northern Africa, Middle East, some groups even migrate down to northern Sudan.


Habitat: Wide variety of habitats, open and less open country at all times. Breeds in arctic and northern temperate zones ranging from flat northern coastal areas , tundra, arctic-alpine areas with birch and willow scrub taiga bogs and other open boreal forest, temperate moorland, lightly wooded prairie, parkland and steppe. During winter and migration also in any kind of open country. Settles up to sealevels of 2,000 m in general, during migration even up to 2,500 to 3,000m.


Behaviour: Diurnal in general. In midwinter also active during dusk. Strucks prey typically in flight but also on ground. Very territorial during breeding season, otherwise solitary.





Size: 24-32 cm

Tail: 11-15 cm

Weight: bis 98 g (Zugvögel)

Wingspan: 35-39 cm


Voice: Mostly silent out breeding season. Then noisy in vicinty of nest. Sounds similar to Kestrel.




Maturity: Towards end of 1st year. ♀ can already breed in their first year.

Mating Season: monogamous breeding pair, very loyal to breeding areas which might lead to pairing for several continuous years.


Clutches per breeding season: 1 clutch

Breeding: End of April to August, four weeks later in the northern ranges.


Nest: Does not build own nest. Shallow scrape, also nest on trees, if available. Uses former nests of crows or other birds of prey. Tree nests usually at heights of 2-18 m. Nests also on hillock, rock or sand dune; under moderate to dense cover oft heather, bracken, grass, marram or low branches.


egg of the merlin
Egg of the Merlin - source: by Didier Descouens - Eigenes Werk, CC BY-SA 4.0,


Clutch: (1-) mostly 3-5 (rarely -7) eggs.

Eggs: broad oval eggs with yellowish shell mostly covered by red-brown stains.

Egg Measurements:

Length: 36.3-44.0 mm

Width: 27.5-33.8 mm

Ø: 40.0x31.3 mm (n=61)

Shell weight: 1.13-1.85 g; Ø: 1.58 g

Egg weight: 20.0-23.5 g; Ø 22.0 (n=20)


Recurrent Clutch: Only after early loss of clutch.


Laying Interval: 3-4 days.

Begin of Incubating: before laying the last egg.

Incubation: 26-30 days for the complete clutch, c 26 days per egg, both parents share the task of incubating with ♀mostly sitting on the clutch.


Hatching: All chicken of a clutch hatch within one day.


Fledging: Chicken are being huddled by ♀ up to the 10th day. The ♀ stays at the nest watching over the clutch until a few days before fledging. Only from that day the ♀ participates in hunting and feeding; up to that time the ♂ was solely responsible for hunting and bringing food to the nest. Fledging after 27-33 days.


Dependency: After fledging the juveniles stay together with their parents for several weeks (usually 2-4 weeks).





Food: Mostly small and medium-sized birds, also large flying insects (dragonflies, dirurnal moths, butterflies, beetles), small mammals such as small rodents, shrews and bats; rarely small lizards, snakes or even amphibians. During breeding mostly lemmings if abundant.


Longevity: The oldest known ringed bird of a Merlin was found in Britain and reached an age of 12 years and 8 months.


Mortality: According to Canadian studies the adult mortality is about 38% per year, even rising in conjunction with higher population density. No recorded data available on juvenile mortality.


Threats: Most threats come from pesticides, loss of raised bog areas as breeding grounds, human disturbances.






Bauer, Hans-Günther, Bezzel, Einhard et. al. (HG), Kompendium der Vögel Mitteleuropas, Band 1+2, Sonderausgabe 2012, Aula Verlag, Wiebelsheim

Bauer, Hans-Günther, Bezzel, Einhard et. al. (HG), Kompendium der Vögel Mitteleuropas, Band 3, Literatur und Anhang, Aula Verlag Wiebelsheim, 2. vollständig überarbeitete Auflage 1993

Bezzel, Einhard, Kompendium der Vögel Mitteleuropas, Non-Passeriformes, Band 1, AULA-Verlag Wiesbaden, 1985

Bruun/Singer/König/Der Kosmos Vogelführer, Franck'sche Verlagshandlung Stuttgart, 5. Auflage 1982

Glutz von Blotzheim, Urs et. al (HG), Handbuch der Vögel Mitteleuropas, Band 4, Falconiformes, AULA-Verlag Wiesbaden, 2. durchgesehene Auflage 1989

Mebs, Theodor (†), Schmidt, Daniel, Die Greifvögel Europas, Nordafrikas und Vorderasiens, Franck-Kosmos Verlag Stuttgart, 2. Auflage 2014

Svenson, Lars et. al, Der Kosmos Vogelführer, Franck-Kosmos Verlag GmbH & Co. KG, Stuttgart, 2. Auflage 2011


Bundesamt für Naturschutz BfN: Nationaler Vogelschutzbericht 2019 gemäß Artikel 12 Vogelschutzrichtlinie, Berichtsdaten aus dem Abschnitt Kr...N Überwinterer (pdf download)



Image Credits


Egg of the Merlin - source: by Didier Descouens - Eigenes Werk, CC BY-SA 4.0,