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Merlin, Alan Burger
Photo © Alan Burger

Photo: Alan Burger
Breeding evidence - Merlin
Breeding evidence
Probability of observation - Merlin
Probability of observation
Elevation plot - Merlin
Elevation plot

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Falco columbarius
Landscape associations:

Click on plot to view table of mean abundance
Elevation range:
0 - 1494 m
Conserv. status:
Not at risk
Global importance
of B.C. population:
Number of squares
ConfirmedProbablePossiblePoint counts
117 125 356 85
Long-term BBS trends
RegionYearsTrend (conf. interv.) Reliab.
Brit. Col.1970 - 2012 4.77 (2.39 - 7.27)Medium
Canada1970 - 2012 3.08 (1.65 - 4.35)Medium

Mean abundance by region

Bird Conservation Regions [plot]
NW Interior ForestBoreal Taiga PlainsGreat BasinNorthern RockiesN. Pacific Rainforest
0.110.01 0.080.06 0.05
Ecoprovinces [plot]
N. Boreal Mountains Taiga Plains Boreal Plains Georgia Depression Sub-Boreal Interior
0.110.04 0.010.06 0.05
S. Interior Mountains Central Interior Southern Interior S. Alaska Mountains Coast & Mountains
0.060.06 0.08  0.05

Mean abundance by habitat [plot]

Boreal Altai Fescue AlpineBoreal White and Black SpruceBunchgrassCoastal Douglas-fir
Coastal Mountain-heather AlpineCoastal Western HemlockEngelmann Spruce -- Subalpine FirInterior Cedar -- Hemlock
 0.04 0.08
Interior Douglas-firInterior Mountain-heather AlpineMontane SpruceMountain Hemlock
0.11 0.03 
Ponderosa PineSpruce -- Willow -- BirchSub-Boreal Pine -- SpruceSub-Boreal Spruce

Characteristics and Range The Merlin is a small falcon of forested areas with openings, which tends to call frequently with a loud, shrill "kee kee kee" around the nest, and is consequently often easily observed in breeding habitat. The Merlin was formerly called the Pigeon Hawk because it can resemble a pigeon in flight. It is sexually dimorphic like most raptors, with the brown female larger than the slaty-blue male. The Merlin breeds throughout the northern forests and prairie habitats of Europe, Asia and North America, generally migrating short to medium distances south to winter. Two of 3 North American sub-species breed in British Columbia: the darker "Black Merlin" (F. c. suckleyi) is largely resident in the more humid Pacific Northwest regions and the paler, migratory "Boreal" or "Taiga Merlin" ( F. c. columbarius) breeds in the drier interior (Warkentin et al. 2005).

Distribution, Abundance, and Habitat The Atlas survey results demonstrate that the Merlin occupies a similarly large breeding distribution now to that known when The Birds of British Columbia was published in 1990, but with more extensive breeding season records particularly in the north. These latter records are likely due to the greater survey effort during the period of the Atlas.

The Merlin is nowhere numerous in British Columbia, but the higher Probability of Observation values are on the plateaus of the Sub-Boreal Interior and Central Interior ecoprovinces, in the Peace and Fort Nelson river lowlands in the Boreal Plains and Taiga Plains ecoprovinces, and along the major river valleys of the Southern Interior and Southern Interior Mountains ecoprovinces. The Merlin is a bird of low to mid-elevations, and most frequently encountered below 750 m, although it breeds up to 1500 m in the Central Interior.

In British Columbia, the Merlin breeds in many coniferous and deciduous forest types with nearby water and open spaces, including urban areas. The high breeding frequency in urban areas is a recent phenomenon and represents a significant change in the province over the last 40 years (Cannings 2015). Nests are typically in coniferous trees such as spruces (Picea), pines (Pinus), and Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), and uncommonly in deciduous trees such as poplar (Populus) species. Merlins usually use the abandoned nests of other bird species such as crows, ravens, magpies, or hawks, but occasionally will nest in large cavities excavated by Pileated Woodpeckers, or on cliffs (Campbell et al. 1990).

Conservation and Recommendations The Merlin has recovered from the pesticide-related declines that impacted birds of prey across North America in much of the middle and latter parts of the 20th Century, and Breeding Bird Survey data in British Columbia and Canada show a strongly increasing population trend since 1970 (Environment Canada 2014). While the Merlin may continue to be susceptible to environmental contaminants such as pesticides and the loss of large trees in some nesting habitats, its recent population increases in urban areas suggest that it will likely continue to persist with healthy populations.

Brian Starzomski

Recommended citation: Starzomski, B. 2015. Merlin in Davidson, P.J.A., R.J. Cannings, A.R. Couturier, D. Lepage, and C.M. Di Corrado (eds.). The Atlas of the Breeding Birds of British Columbia, 2008-2012. Bird Studies Canada. Delta, B.C. [14 Jul 2024]

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