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Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center

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Forest and Rangeland Birds of the United States

Natural History and Habitat Use

Merlin -- Falco columbarius

RANGE: Breeds from northwestern Alaska and northern Yukon to Labrador and Newfoundland, south to southern Alaska, eastern Oregon, northern Minnesota, southern Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. Winters west of the Rockies from south-central Alaska, southern British Columbia, Wyoming, and Colorado southward, locally across southern Canada, and in the eastern United States from Maryland, the Gulf Coast, and southern Texas to South America.

STATUS: Uncommon.

HABITAT: Inhabits open areas such as forest edges, bogs, and lakes in boreal and moist Pacific Coastal forests, and prairie-parkland of the northern Great Plains. Some remain in prairie habitat even in winter; others will use almost any habitat type encountered in its winter range.

NEST: Generally nests in trees from 5 to 60 feet above ground, often in old stick nests of crows, ravens, magpies, or other raptors, in or near open areas, and generally near water. Occasionally nests on the ground, on bare ledge of a cliff, or in cavities in trees. Prairie birds prefer to nest in isolated groves of trees near water, and in wooded areas along rivers, generally in coniferous trees.

FOOD: Sights prey from an inconspicuous perch or during flight. Preys almost entirely on small to medium-sized birds; also takes large insects, scorpions, spiders, crayfish, toads, small snakes, bats, and small mammals.

REFERENCES: Evans 1982, Fox 1964, Heintzelman 1979, McAtee 1935, Sprunt 1955, Trimble 1975.

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