South Dakota
Birds and Birding
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Falco columbarius

Length: 12 inches Wingspan: 25 inches Seasonality: Winter / All Seasons
ID Keys: Dark tail with light-colored bands, heavily streaked underparts.  Prairie ("Richardson's") male blue-gray above, female brownish above

Merlin - Falco columbariusAlso known as the "Pigeon Hawk", the Merlin is a small, fast falcon which catches its main prey (small birds) in flight.   Merlins have become adapted to living in urban areas and may overwinter in cities, taking advantage of the steady supply of House Sparrows and Rock Doves (pigeons) that urban centers provide.

Habitat: Prefers mixed habitat of trees and adjacent open spaces for breeding.  May winter in nearly any habitat.

Diet: Mostly small birds, also small mammals, insects, and reptiles.

Behavior: Primarily hunts from a perch, flying out to capture prey when it is sighted.  Also will fly low over the ground in order to surprise prey. 

Nesting: May and June

Breeding Map: Breeding bird survey map

Song: Rapid shrill ki-ki-ki-ki. 

Migration: Merlins summer in Canada and the northern U.S. Rockies, and winter through the western half of the country and along the East Coast.

Similar Species: American Kestrel

Conservation Status: Possibly in decline due to effects of pesticides. 

Further Information: 1) USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Merlin

2) Cornell University's "All About Birds - Merlin"

3) Merlin

Photo Information: November 11th, 2004 -- Near Presho -- Terry Sohl

Additional Photos: Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Merlin photos.


Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Merlin - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Uncommon migrant and winter visitor.  Rare summer breeder in the extreme western edge of the state.