Nature Journal
with Photos

          
Merlin Identification Tips
(Credit: U. S. Geological Survey)
 
General Information
- Short, dark, hooked beak
- Small, long-tailed hawk
- Long, pointed wings, broad at the base
- Thin, pale black mustache mark
- Underwings checkered with black and white
- Juveniles and immature females like adult female
- Three distinct races occur in North America
 

 
Taiga Merlin (F. c. columbarius):
- Breeds in northern Canadian boreal forests from Newfoundland to Alaska and winters in the southern United States; migrants occur frequently along both coasts but are rare inland
- Flight feathers dark above
- Faint dark mustache mark

Adult male
- Dark blue-gray back, paler than suckleyi but darker than richardsoni
- Dark tail has wide, complete, blue-gray bands

Adult female
- Dark, brownish back
- Brown tail has narrow, complete buffy bands
 

 
Prairie Merlin (F. c. richardsonii):
- Breeder and resident in prairies of south-central
  Canada and the upper Midwest of the United States with some moving south to New Mexico
- Large spots on flight feathers visible from above
- Lacks mustache mark

Adult male
- Pale supercilium
- Pale brown cheeks
- Pale blue-gray back
- Blue gray tail with narrow black bands

Adult female
- Pale supercilium
- Pale brown cheeks
- Pale brown back
- Complete white bands on brown tail
 

 
Black Merlin (F.c.suckleyi):
- Resident in upper Pacific Coast forests from British Colombia to Alaska, occasionally straying to New
  Mexico in winter
- Very dark back, wings and head
- Dark mustache mark
- Flight feathers dark above

Adult male
- Blue-gray cast seen in good light
- Black tail with incomplete blue-gray bands

Adult female
- Dark tail with very faint tail bands
 

 
Similar species
American Kestrel is similar in size and shape, but has two mustache marks, reddish-brown about head, narrower wings and lacks checkerboard pattern of underwings. Peregrine is much larger with a much bolder mustache mark and not so strongly checkered underwings. Prairie Falcon has a bolder mustache mark, white between the eye and the mustache mark and black axillars.
 
 
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