Plants and Animals
Falco columbarius Merlin
The Merlin is a medium-sized falcon, about the size of a blue jay, characterized by long, pointed wings and rapid wing-beats; a long, heavily barred tail; vertically streaked underparts; and faint "sideburns". In flight, Merlins appear similar to American kestrels (F. sparverius) but lack any brown tones above or extensive buffy to white underparts. The dark tail with 2-5 highly contrasting narrow light bands helps distinguish the Merlin from the larger Peregrine falcon (F. peregrinus). When alarmed the Merlin utters a rapid series of "ki" notes, similar to other falcons.
Status and Rank
State Status: T - Threatened (legally protected)
Global Rank: G5 - Secure
State Rank: S3 - Vulnerable
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Information is summarized from MNFI's database of rare species and community occurrences. Data may not reflect true distribution since much of the state has not been thoroughly surveyed.
Nests are frequently near lakeshores or other semi-open areas where prey (small to medium birds) may be captured. Merlins will rarely nest in cavities or on cliffs.
For each species, lists of natural communities were derived from review of the nearly 6,500 element occurrences in the MNFI database, in addition to herbarium label data for some taxa. In most cases, at least one specimen record exists for each listed natural community. For certain taxa, especially poorly collected or extirpated species of prairie and savanna habitats, natural community lists were derived from inferences from collection sites and habitat preferences in immediately adjacent states (particularly Indiana and Illinois). Natural communities are not listed for those species documented only from altered or ruderal habitats in Michigan, especially for taxa that occur in a variety of habitats outside of the state.
Natural communities are not listed in order of frequency of occurrence, but are rather derived from the full set of natural communities, organized by Ecological Group. In many cases, the general habitat descriptions should provide greater clarity and direction to the surveyor. In future versions of the Rare Species Explorer, we hope to incorporate natural community fidelity ranks for each taxon.
In North America, loss of suitable habitat may be the major factor affecting Merlin populations although pesticide contamination has also played a role. Currently, the Merlin's habitat in Michigan is not seriously threatened and there are no known factors that are critically limiting its present population in the state. In some portions of the country dying or over harvesting of preferred nesting trees in woodlots and shelterbelts is suspected to have impacted Merlin numbers. As such, nesting trees should be protected and human activity within a buffer around nests should be limited.
Migration from fourth week of April to third week of May
Nesting from third week of May to fourth week of July
Migration from first week of August to third week of October
The recommended method for surveying this species is by conducting call playback surveys during the breeding season. Some recommend call playback surveys be done prior to incubation to reduce disruption. Adult Merlins are aggressive toward intruders in the nesting area and defend it with repeated alarm cries. Areas with abandoned crow, raven, or hawk nests should be surveyed in particular.
Play conspecific call
Survey Period: From fourth week of April to fourth week of May
Time of Day: Daytime
- Bibby, C.J., N.D. Burgess, and D.A. Hill. 1992. Bird Census Techniques. Academic Press, New York.
- Cuthrell, D.L. 2002. Special Animal Abstract for Falco columbarius (Merlin). Michigan Natural Features Inventory, Lansing, MI. 3pp.
- Evers, D.C. 1994. Endangered and Threatened Wildlife of Michigan. The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor. 412pp.