How to Identify a Merlin

How to Identify a Merlin
The merlin is a small member of the falcon family; it is sometimes mistakenly called the "pigeon hawk." The merlin lives in the northern portions of North America, Asia and Europe. Although the merlin breeds in the north, it does head to warmer climes in cold months, making it possible to spot one almost anywhere in the continental United States.


Difficulty: Moderately Challenging

How to Identify a Merlin

Things You’ll Need:
  • Binoculars
  • Pocket bird guide
Step 1
Identify the merlin by its coloration. The male merlin has a bluish-gray back with orange underneath. The females are brown above and have a white chest marked with brownish spots. On both males and females a darker stripe extends down from the eye.
Step 2
Watch for a low-flying bird with great speed that preys mostly on other birds. Although able to kill mammals as large as a rabbit, the merlin mostly kills other birds on the ground and sometimes in the air. Some merlins overlook a person's yard and kill songbirds that are eating at birdfeeders.
Step 3
Observe the long, pointed wings of the merlin. Like all falcons, these birds are built to achieve high speeds. The checkerboard pattern under its wings is visible when a merlin is in flight.
Step 4
Keep an eye out for an aggressive bird that seems fearless. The merlin defends its territory against raptors as large as eagles. It will not construct a nest of its own; instead, it will commandeer a nest from birds like crows and other raptors. While it winters in the southern states, the merlin frequents open areas like meadows, grasslands, marshes and coastlines.
Step 5
Listen for the high-pitched call of the merlin. It resembles "kee kee kee" over and over. It may make this call while perched high in a tree looking for movement or when in flight.

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