Falco columbarius
Range Map

The Merlin is a small falcon found across most of the northern hemisphere. In earlier times, we called them Pigeon Hawks, because in flight they appeared like pigeons. Today their species name columbarius, from the Latin for dove, reminds us of their old name.

Science recognises three North American subspecies of Merlin, plus six more in Eurasia. The three North American members are:

  • F. c. columbarius or Taiga Merlin, breeds from Newfoundland to western Alaska, though not on the coast, and south into the northern USA, including Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, the Great Lakes states, and the western mountain states. They spend winters as far south as Peru, and as far north as the northern USA and southern Canada. Most spend winter south of the USA, with the West Indies a center of winter abundance.
  • F. c. richardsonii or Prairie Merlin, breeds in south-central Canada and the northern USA prairie states, and migrates during winter into the southern United States and Central America. Some individuals winter in their breeding range, especially in prairie cities such as Saskatoon, Edmonton, Billings, and Grand Forks, where prey is plentiful.
  • F. c. suckleyi or Black Merlin breeds in the humid forests of Washington, British Columbia, and southeastern Alaska. They are generally nonmigratory, but some individuals move as far south as southern California and New Mexico.

I don’t frequently see Merlins, and when I do, I rarely get opportunities to photograph them. In flight, they move so fast it is difficult to capture an image. When I find them perched, often they are too distant for adequate image captures. But in early November 2022, while doing chores at home, I spotted a Taiga Merlin munching on a large dragonfly atop a dead snag on the hill where I live in Southern California. Happily, it sat long enough for me to fetch my camera gear and capture a few images.

8 Photos

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