Merlin photo by Amanda Atkins


Slightly larger than the American Kestrel, the Merlin is much more aggressive in behavior and more powerful in flight than its smaller falcon cousin. Females are larger, as with most birds of prey. Plumage differs between the sexes: adult males are gray-blue above, females are dark brown. Under parts are a pale rufous-red, with dark brown streaks and spots. Legs are yellow; the wings are short, pointed, and angular; the tail is dark with many thin whitish bands; the head has a dark crown, and a much fainter mustache mark than seen on other falcons. In flight, the Merlin can be distinguished from the American Kestrel by its darker underparts and longer, broader wing shape; the barred tail of the Merlin distinguishes it in flight from its larger falcon relatives, the Prairie and Peregrine Falcons. Merlins tend to fly rapidly in a direct line from one spot to another with short, fast, continuous wing beats. These feisty birds will aggressively harass other raptors who come into their territory.


Meet our resident Merlins:

Ciaran, an adult male Merlin, was found injured in Hood River, Oregon, in late March 2011. He had a dislocated radius at the elbow, and a fractured ulna very close to the elbow, on his right wing. It proved impossible to maintain the radius in position as the ulna healed - leaving him unable to fly well. He probably hit a window or a wire while chasing a small bird, their typical prey. He is a 'black' merlin, of the Pacific Northwest subspecies suckleyi.  Ciaran joined the Education Team in 2012.

Adoptive "Parents" of Ciaran:
Pure Potent CBD •  Aiyana Gonzales  •  Stephen Mathys  •  Neil Gunton  •  Anna Vogel
Merry Ann Bartholemy  •  Alex Baumann  •  Aurora Martin

Hoku was illegally taken from the nest as a youngster in Wisconsin in 2012. After being kept and imprinted by humans, and suffering a possible West Nile Virus infection, he was turned over to a licensed rehabilitation facility. Not having learned the important skills needed for survival on his own, he was transferred to a falconer in Oklahoma, where he did education programs. In September 2015, he joined the Cascades Raptor Center’s Education Team. He is very fond of his baths and has taken on the nickname “The Hurricane” by several staff and volunteers. 

Adoptive "Parents" of Hoku:
Monica Kundl  •  Hinckley/Huff Family in honor of Hedy  •  Sharon Henry Jones  •  Margaret & John Fouts
Duke Manning  •  Bela Dedrick  •  Becki Quick  •  Taylor Wolf  •  Oliver Gonzales •  Barton Taylor 
Todd & Julie Trierweiler  •  Reid-Dzong Nguyen  •  Brooke Carroll •  Sarah Shriver  •  Melody Lee  •  Sarah Winter


Scientific Name

Falco columbarius


Length 9 - 11"
Wing Span 21 - 23"
Weight 4.5 - 6.6 oz.


Length 11 -1 2" 
Wing Span 24 - 27"
Weight 6.4 - 8.3 oz.


State and federally protected 


Prefer edge environments with scattered trees for perches and open terrain for hunting birds and insects on the wing. Habitats vary regionally, from mixed grassland and deciduous trees, to coniferous forests with open meadows or burns - wherever enough perches and a good food supply exist. 


Birds form the majority of the diet. This falcon catches birds in flight with bursts of speed and rapid maneuvers. Usually hunts from a perch, taking off after spotting a potential meal, often flying low and in direct pursuit of prey. Also eats rodents, lizards, snakes, and insects - especially dragonflies. 


This falcon is usually quiet. When alarmed, will give a strident, rapidly accelerating series of twitwitwitwitititititi, rising and falling. 


Appropriates the nests of other species, or nests in tree hollows in areas where there are scattered trees or open woodland. Will also nest on bare cliff ledges, or on the ground in a scraped-out depression. 

Most Common Problems

Collisions with vehicles.

Range Map

This falcon is circumboreal in worldwide distribution. One or another of the three subgroups of Merlin found in North America breed from Canada and Alaska south into western mountain regions of the US, and winter throughout most of the central and southern part of the country, down into Mexico.


Special Thanks for range maps:

Dan Gleason
BGleason Design & Illustration
Commercial & Scientific Illustration, Graphic Design
CraneDance Communications
Book Production/Design