Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
The merlin, sometimes called a "pigeon hawk", may be found in North Dakota from early April through mid-October. It prefers habitat consisting of mixed deciduous/coniferous forest along edges of lakes and ponds in northern and western North Dakota. It resembles the American kestrel but is slightly larger and lacks the strong facial markings and rust colored upperparts. It spends much of its time perched in the tops of trees and on fenceposts or flying low to the ground searching for prey. The merlin preys primarily on small ground-dwelling birds such as larks, sandpipers, pigeons, and doves. It does not stoop at prey, but rather swiftly overtakes small birds and knocks them out of the air. When small birds begin to migrate and become scarce, merlins will prey upon small mammals such as mice and ground squirrels.
Nesting takes place from May through June with 5 to 6 eggs being laid over a two day period. Merlins usually nest in old, abandoned nests of other birds, but will occasionally nest on the ground. Incubation is done primarily by the female and lasts 28-32 days. Young merlins take to flight 25-30 days after hatching.