The Merlin is the second smallest falcon in North America – only slightly larger than its relative, the American kestrel. Like other falcons, they are very strong and aerodynamic in flight, especially as they hunt smaller birds, which comprise the vast majority of their diet. Although their plumage greatly varies among three different subspecies, merlins lack the bold facial markings of other falcons.
Merlins do not build their own nests, but instead take over the nests of other raptors or crows, usually in conifers or deciduous trees of semi-open habitats. In the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, they are fairly common winter residents. Merlins are often observed around open fields and agricultural areas, but have also adapted to living in cities and may be found in urban neighborhoods. During spring, they migrate to parts of the northern U.S., including Alaska, or Canada to breed.
Merlin populations have largely recovered from 20th century declines, thanks to the banning of the pesticide, DDT.