Bird Sightings : Hebrides : Merlin
(Stone Falcon, Pigeon Hawk)
Photograph © Andy L
Isle of lewis - Outer Hebrides (Western Isles)
8th April, 2009
Our Merlin photographs
- Falco columbarius
- UK AMBER LIST (1,300 breeding pairs) RSPB
- WI: Uncommon resident or migrant Breeder (10-99 breeding pairs) and passage visitor (recorded in low numbers each year)
- Breeds: UK nest usually a scrape on upland rocky or scrub moor in long heather. Upland moorland, birch scrub, forest. North America, Asia, Europe
- Winter: In Aug - Oct birds resident birds come down to inland & lowland coast areas with open countryside & North European birds arrive. Some Icelandic breeding birds migrate to UK and some birds that breed here move further south. Africa, Asia, South America
- Habitat: Moor, heath, desert, open coniferous forest
- Diet: Mostly small birds - usually caught by dashing pursuit
- Smallest bird of prey. Male: 10-13in long, wingspan 24-27in. Female slightly larger. Compact, relatively long square-cut tail & fairly broad-based pointed wings (shorter than other falcons). Adult male: blue-grey above & orange-tinted below. Female & immature dark-brown above & whitish with brown spotting below. In flight looks a bit like a Pigeon hence old name Pigeon Hawk. Merlin often roost communally & with hen harriers.
- Max recorded age: 12yrs 8mths
- Listen to a Merlin (RSPB site)
- Similar birds: Kestrel, Sparrowhawk
Our smallest bird of prey.
Small but powerful...the hunting flight is a low-level glide,wings held close to body), pushed by occasional series of deft wingbeats (also hovers).
During a stoop the wings close and the bird becomes a missile that comes upon it's prey with such speed and power that the bird can take prey up to 4 times it's own weight. Dashing, agile aerial chases are a speciality. Will take a grouse but mainly feeds on pipits and larks.
Merlin records in the Western Isles
Uncommon resident or migrant Breeder (10-99 breeding pairs) and passage visitor (recorded in low numbers each year)
The Icelandic race Falco columbarius subaesalon is probably a regular migrant or winter visitor.
Source: Outer Hebrides Bird Report (2001)
Estimated 30 breeding pairs of Merlin in the islands TBC
On the chart below the darker the shade of blue the more abundant the Merlin is during a month or the more likely you are to see it.
(Source: Outer Hebrides Birds Checklist)
Threats to the Merlin population
Merlin are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. It is an offence to kill, injure or take an adult Merlin, or to take, damage or destroy an active nest or its contents.
Egg thieves are still a major problem for raptors. In 2001 an egg collector from London was arrested for disturbing Golden Eagles. He was trying to steal eggs from a nest on South Uist.
There is a BBC article written in 2008 about another egg-collector caught with more than 7,000 eggs in his collection, 653 of those eggs were from the UK's most protected species such as the Red-necked Phalarope. He also had eggs from Barn Owls, Golden Eagles, Ospreys, Choughs, Peregrine Falcons, and almost 40 Black-necked Grebe's eggs. (RSPB estimates there are only 40 - 60 breeding pairs of Black-necked Grebes in the whole of the UK....)
- Keep your eyes open for trouble.
- Quickly phone the police or RSPB if you are at all worried about the safety of the Merlin
- Don't tell people if you know where there are Merlin nests
- If you know where the Merlin are breeding do not take photographs of them on the nest. Disturb protected breeding birds and you are going to be arrested ...
- Don't mention where you have seen Merlin during breeding time - (locations where the birds of prey have been sighted at breeding time are kept vague on our bird sightings page).
A lot of people think that egg-collecting does not happen anymore, it is an archaic thing to do in these enlightened times - but sadly the rarer a species becomes the greater a target it is ...
Other local bird photographs
Sources of information for the bird sightings section