Key facts

Scientific name: Falco columbarius
Status: Resident breeding species

Breeding birds: 900-1,500 pairs

Conservation status: Red

Family: Falcons

Length: 25 – 30 cm
Wingspan: 50 – 62 cm
Weight: 125 – 300 g


Adult male merlins have blue-grey underparts and dark grey tails with a black terminal bar. Their underparts, breasts, bellies and under tail are pale buff to rust with white streaks. They have dark flight feathers on their upper wings and barred dark grey and white underwings.

Merlins’ crowns are blue-grey with a white stripe above their eyes. Their cheeks and napes are pale buff and their chins and throats are white. They have grey hooked bills with a yellow cere and dark brown eyes, with a thin yellow eye-ring. Their legs and feet are yellow.

Female merlins are larger than the males. Their upper parts are browner with grey lower back, rump and upper tail. Their upper wings are more spotted than the males and their heads are brown rather than grey.

Juvenile merlins look similar to adult females but with darker brown upper parts, grey-brown eyes and greenish legs and feet.


Merlins are solitary nesters but do not build their own nests, instead using corvids’ old stick nests situated in trees, cliff ledges and sometimes on the ground.

Merlins lay 3-6 light buff eggs spotted with red. They are incubated for 28-32 days by both parents but mainly the female. Chicks are fed by both parents and fledge 28-32 days after hatching and although they can catch insects they rely on their parents for food for another five weeks.


Merlins are predators of birds including sparrows, thrushes, warblers and small to medium-sized songbirds. They will also eat small mammals such as bats, squirrels, mice and voles as well as reptiles and amphibians.


Where to see them

Merlins can be seen in open country across the UK but particularly near the coast.


Lauri Hallikainen/xeno-canto

Did you know?

Young merlins have an unusually high survival rate with an average of three birds per nest reaching breeding age.

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