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Above: Merlin by Dennis Swayze

What Does It Look Like?

Merlins are small, stocky falcons, about the size of  a pigeon, or Rock Dove.  The head is rather large in relation to its body size, and individuals often have a malar stripe, or mustache, on the face. The white-banded tail is of medium length. In Manitoba, the dorsal colour varies from dark grey in central and northern lattitudes (Taiga Merlin, F. c. columbarius) to light grey in southern areas (Prairie Merlin, F. c. richardsonii). Females of both subspecies are browner overall than their male counterparts. Underneath, the breast is heavily streaked.

Does It Migrate?

Though a few individuals may remain in the province for the winter, Merlins generally spend the cold months in the US (excluding Alaska and Hawaii), Mexico or Central  America. Some may winter in the northern regions of South America.

Where Does It Live?

Merlins breed in semi-open and open areas with mature spruce trees, where they use old crow or magpie nests. Merlins range across much of the province. 

Above: Merlin by Garry Budyk

Where Can I See It?

In breeding season, Merlins are quite vocal and may be located by their calls. Merlins can be seen in many city suburbs and parks, as well as near farm shelterbelts and woodlots. Open areas near lakes and rivers in the boreal forest are also good spots to look for it.


After a precipitous decline in numbers in past decades due to pesticide use, Merlin populations have recovered (both subspecies) and are on the rise. It is thought, however, that the number of wintering birds will remain fairly low in Manitoba as food sources such as waxwings, European starlings and house sparrows, continue to decline.

Above: Merlin by Dennis Swayze

Did You Know?

In addition to birds and small mammals, Merlins occasionally hunt insects. Dragonflies may be consumed to varying degrees, depending on abundance and availability. The aerial acrobatics of the Merlin are on full display on hunting expeditions, whether chasing birds or when catching and eating large dragonflies on the wing.

Above: Merlin by Garry Budyk