Bird Database


(Falco columbarius)

State of the Birds
At a Glance





Strongly increasing



Conservation Actions

None identifified


(Falco columbarius)

Merlins are small falcons that breed across the northern portions of Eurasia and North America, usually in forest habitats. Long known as a migrant through New Hampshire, it was not documented breeding here until 1994 near Lake Umbagog, making it one of relatively few species that have colonized the state from the north. This first nest was part of a wider pattern of southward expansion that began in the 1960s in the Great Plains, finally reaching the northeastern United States in the 1990s. Merlins have now been documented nesting in all corners of the Granite State, and as far south as West Virginia.

Much of this rapid colonization is the result of Merlins adapting well to human dominated landscapes. They typically nest in open areas rather than dense forest, and these conditions are met by city parks, golf courses, and suburban neighborhoods. Like all falcons, Merlins do not build nests of their own and instead lay their eggs in the abandoned nests of crows and hawks. Crows are common in these same areas, and increasing hawk populations may also have helped by providing additional future nest sites.

It has also been proposed that Merlins do well in developed landscapes because of the abundance of prey. In many parts of their wide range, Merlins specialize on locally abundant birds of open areas (e.g., larks and pipits), and non-native species like House Sparrows and European Starlings certainly fit the bill. Prey are almost always caught in flight, often after a long chase. During late summer and fall, large insects such as dragonflies are added to the diet, and watching Merlins pause to hunt these evasive insects is often a highlight at fall hawk watches. Merlins migrating or wintering in coastal areas also take large numbers of small shorebirds.

Seasonal Abundance

Relative abundance based on eBird data. Numbers indicate likelihood of finding this species in suitable habitat at a given time of year, not actual numbers encountered.

Range Map

Information for the species profiles on this website was compiled from a combination of the sources listed below.

  • The Birds of New Hampshire. By Allan R. Keith and Robert B. Fox. 2013. Memoirs of the Nuttall Ornithological club No. 19.

  • Atlas of the Breeding Birds of New Hampshire. Carol R. Foss, ed. 1994. Arcadia Publishing Company and Audubon Society of New Hampshire

  • Birds of the World. Various authors and dates. Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

  • Data from the Breeding Bird Survey

  • Data from the Christmas Bird Count