© Copyright: Images: Jari Peltomäki, Mervi Wahlroos, M. & W. von Wright (Kansalliskirjasto, The National Library of Finland). Recording: Jan-Erik Bruun. All rights reserved.


Falco columbarius

  • Family: Falcons – Falconidae
  • Appearance: The smallest bird of prey found in Finland. Males only about the size of a large thrush. Flight rapid, like other falcons. Can be confused with Sparrowhawk, but wings more sharply pointed and tail shorter.
  • Size: Length 26–33 cm, wingspan 55–69 cm, weight 105–165 g (male), 145–230 g (female).
  • Nest: Uses nests built by crows or other birds of prey, which it repairs and adapts slightly. Nests may be located in trees, on rocky cliff ledges or on large boulders.
  • Breeding: Lays 3–5 eggs in early May. Both parents incubate (though females spend more time on nest), for 26–30 days. Young able to fly within 23–30 days.
  • Distribution: Breeds in various forest habitats as far north as the birch and willow zone or Northern Lapland. More common in Northern Finland than further south. Finnish breeding population estimated at 3,000 pairs.
  • Migration: Autumn migration begins in mid August, birds return to Finland in March–April. Winters in Western and Southern Europe, though some individuals may remain in Finland.
  • Diet: Birds, small mammals. Catches birds by pursuing them in low flight and by stealth.
  • Calls: Warning call a quickfire ”kii-kii-kii”.
  • Endangerment: Protected throughout Finland and the Åland Islands.

The Merlin is Finland’s smallest bird of prey. Males are only about as large as a Mistle Thrush, and females are a little larger. Males have grey-blue upper parts and rusty coloured underparts marked with dark streaks. Females and young birds have dark brown upper parts and pale underparts with dark lengthwise streaks. Merlins have faint moustache-like face markings and the tips of their tails are marked with a broad dark band. Their wings are broad by their bodies and clearly shorter than those of other falcon species. They have proportionally longer tails than the Hobby, but shorter than the Kestrel. Mature birds have yellow legs, but younger birds’ legs are greenish. Their beaks are mainly bluish, with dark tips and a yellow base to the lower mandible. The ceres on top of their beaks are yellowish (mature birds) or greenish (younger birds), and their irises are dark brown.

Merlins can fly acrobatically and maintain rapid wing-beats for long periods, only gliding briefly. They catch their prey by diving, and can also fly in rapid curves while accelerating, which can make them hard to follow with binoculars.

Other species from the same genus
Other species from the same family

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