The merlin is the UK’s smallest bird of prey, but their small size does not make them any less intimidating to their prey. Merlins share the same, hooked chunky beaks as other raptors as well as the broad tapered wing tips of other falcons, albeit shorter. Their tails are a sharp square cut shape. Males tend to have black, blue and grey colourings on the upper body and orange and cream colourings on the neck and breast. Females and juveniles are more muted in colour with feathers ranging from black, brown, cream, grey and white.
During the breeding season in the summer months merlins can be found on upland moors. In the winter months, they will move to lower ground or coastal areas. Merlins are known for being very territorial, especially around their chicks. They are not afraid to go head to head with larger birds in order to defend their young. When it comes to hunting the merlin prefers smaller birds such as the chaffinch or the meadow pipit. To catch their prey, merlins utilise their pointed wings and longer tail. This enables them to build speed and rapidly change direction, allowing the merlin to catch its prey in flight.
- Length: 25-31cm
- Wingspan: 50-62cm
- Weight: 125-300g (females tend to be heavier than males)
The merlin is classified as a red list status bird in the UK. However, in Europe, the merlin does not enjoy the same conservation status and is present on the “least concern” red list under the European conservation concern species list.
Widespread throughout Scotland
When to see
- In flight merlin beat their wings a few times in rapid succession, then glide through the air.
- In the past the Merlin was a popular choice for falconers including Mary, Queen of Scots.