This is a traditional falconry bird throughout Europe and in America as well.
This bird is not to be confused with the Eurasian Kestrel or the American Sparrowhawk.
Typical quarry caught with the Merlin will be small and medium birds such as doves, starlings, quail, and sparrows. In the wild this bird more typically takes non-game birds larger than itself. Merlins will be chased and are in danger from everything from crows to Red-Tails, so the falconer must always be aware of what else is happening around the flight.
This bird's hunting style is marked by the twisting tail-chase that it will do instead of the Peregrine's signature stoop from a height capable of a more accipitrine hunting style. To strike, it rises above the prey and strikes down with the talons. This is very similar to the Peregrine's typical hunting style. It will also switch to a snatch-and-grab accipiter style of hunting if necessary. In order to watch much of the flight, the Merlin should be hunted in a flat area without thick trees. Otherwise much of the flight is out of view. Because of this they do tend to need more space to fly than a Sharp-Shin Hawk and may not be as suited for urban hawking. With lots of open ground and starlings a Merlin is a great choice.
The Merlin is sometimes referred to as the Pigeon Hawk - in part because their flight style resembles a Pigeon, and in part because Pigeons are some of their prey. It has a very accipitrine hunting style. This is a focused bird who is intent on the hunt. It has a distinctive habit of pumping is tail once or twice before taking flight.
The Merlin really loves flying to the lure. This makes them, and their hybrids, an excellent bird for abatement.
The male Merlin is called a "Jack".
The Merlin has a blue tongue and mouth.
Particular favorite of Catherine the Great and Mary Queen of Scots.
Like most small falcons, Merlins are known for carrying their catch.
There are nine subspecies of Merlins worldwide, three of which (the Black Merlin of the Pacific Northwest, the Taiga Merlin, and the Prairie or Richardson's Merlin) are native to the United States. Taiga Merlins are darker in the east and gradually get more pale as you travel west. Prairie or Richardson's Merlins are the palest and tend to also be the largest. Black Merlins are very dark brown to black in color.
Although most long wings nest in cliffs, the Richardson's Merlin is frequently observed nesting in deserted crow's nests. They tend to prefer wooded or semi-open country and will take over abandoned nests or build a nest of twigs a few feet above the ground.
Although these birds have much the same dimensions as the Kestrel, they weigh roughly 1/3 more making them much easier to manage.
The Merlin populations in the United States are currently stable.