Identification: The Merlin has the pointed wings of a Kestrel but is smaller and shorter tailed with dark duller plumage. It flies with great speed and agility using quick shallow wing-beats. At close range its moustache is less obvious than on any other British falcon. Adult males are slatey-blue above with a black tip to the tail: females and immatures are a dull dark brown above, heavily streaked below.
Habitat: Breeds on open moorland and grassland. Winters on open moorland, estuaries and marshes.
Distribution: An uncommon upland breeder in Scotland, northern England and Wales, with a few in south-west England. Easier to see in winter, when breeding birds disperse to other areas and are joined by continental immigrants. Usually a dashing view is all that can be expected, although more prolonged views can often be had at communal roost sites.
Breeds only in northern Europe, usually at low densities in fairly remote upland areas. They are particularly numerous at the western end of Mainland, Shetland. In winter, they occur much more widely in the rest of Europe, especially by the coast or at wetland areas. They are relatively easy to see along the Dutch coasts, for example.
Population: 1300 breeding pairs in Britain with between 110-130 further pairs in Ireland. The winter population may swell to 2 000-3 000 birds in Britain.
10-17,000 breeding pairs across Scandinavia, Iceland and the British Isles.