British wildlife recordings
Falco columbarius : Merlin - Falconidae
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Dartmoor National Park, Devon: OS Grid Reference(258500,58500)
Merlin, Falco columbarius
The call of the male merlin, recorded at Dartmoor, Devon. The Merlin is Britain's smallest falcon. Medieval noblewomen found the bird popular for falconry, as it was lighter to hold on the wrist than other hunting birds. This raptor is typically seen flying low and fast over upland areas where it seeks its usual prey of small birds, insects, lizards and mice. The male bird displays blue-grey upperparts whilst the pale-buff underparts are boldly streaked with chocolate brown. The female differs in possessing brown upperparts. The Merlin became scarce in the last century because of heavy persecution. This was partly due to gamekeepers who believed, often erroneously, that the bird continually preyed upon chicks such as those of grouse. Chemical pesticides and unsympathetic forestation have also affected the breeding success of this species. One brood of chicks, numbering four to six, is raised in a humble scrape in the ground. There is little nesting material except for small heather stalks, bits of moss and moor grass. Old crows' nests have occasionally been used to rear young. The female is generally responsible for feeding the chicks although the male actively hunts for the family. Merlins are seen throughout the year in western and central Ireland, Wales, northern England and Scotland. During winter months, birds are also found in the southern regions of England.