Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Merlin - Falco columbarius
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General Comments The Merlin is a very feisty raptor for its size, and its dashing flight chasing down shorebirds and other avian prey makes it an exciting species to watch. Unlike the other two falcons on the Official List, Merlins do not breed in North Carolina, nor anywhere near the state. It is mainly known as a winter bird near the coast and a scarce migrant everywhere else. Merlins are usually found in extensive open country, often near concentrations of shorebirds; but they also can be seen perched in lone treetops in fields, on telephone poles, or on other conspicuous perches. (However, they seldom perch on phone lines, unlike the American Kestrel.)
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
Coastal Plain Transient, and winter resident in the eastern part of the region. Uncommon to fairly common fall migrant along the immediate coast, but uncommon during the winter (and spring); rare to uncommon in winter in the Tidewater area; elsewhere in the region, mainly a very rare to rare transient and winter visitor. Mainly from early Sep to early May; exceptionally to 16 Jun (at Wilmington). Peak counts: 16, Fort Fisher, 20 Sep 2004;
Piedmont Transient, with some winter reports. Rare fall and spring migrant, may be locally uncommon in fall around reservoirs that have mudflats with shorebirds (especially Jordan and Falls lakes). Very rare to rare in winter; no regular wintering areas known, and seldom if ever overwinters. Mainly from early Sep to mid-Nov, and mid-Apr to early May. Peak counts: 3, Jordan Lake, 23 Sep 1995; 3, Alexander, 17 Oct 1999.
Mountains Transient, with some winter reports. Very rare to rare fall and spring migrant; very rare winter visitor. Probably most likely to be seen from hawk watch sites, in Oct. Mainly late Sep to early May. Out of season was one seen and heard on Roan Mountain (Mitchell) on 18 Jun 2014. Peak counts: 2, Calvert (Transylvania), 10 Jan 1993; 2, Hooper Lane (Henderson), 8 Oct 2005;
Finding Tips Your best chance to see a Merlin is to visit the coast in Oct, especially after a cold front. Birds can be seen migrating southward along the dunes or along the barrier islands. The Bodie-Pea Islands area typically has a handful of birds all winter. When driving along the coast, such as along the Outer Banks, carefully scan the telephone poles and crossbars; Merlins and Peregrine Falcons frequently use these as perches. Inland, Merlins are most frequent around extensive open country, such as farm ponds and cattle feedlots; they may perch in lone trees in the pastures.
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Attribution LeGrand[2015-03-05], LeGrand[2012-05-20], LeGrand[2011-11-27]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.
NA Maps
(source NatureServe)

View NatureServe distribution maps for Falco columbarius