In North America it was once known as the pigeon hawk, and its scientific name (from columba, a dove) also refers to this popular prey item. However, the merlin is a falcon, not a hawk, so the old name is to be avoided.
This small bird of prey is a bird of open country, such as moorland, taiga or willow or birch scrub. Like the larger Peregrine falcon it will migrate to more temperate regions in winter in southern Europe or the southern USA. In the mildest parts of its range, such as Great Britain, it will desert higher ground and move to coasts and lowland.
Merlins will roost communally in winter, often with Hen Harriers.
The male has a blue-grey back and orange-tinted underparts. The female is dark brown above and whitish spotted with brown below. This species' small size distinguishes it from the Peregrine falcon.
Merlins rely on speed and agility to hunt their prey, which is mainly small birds such as larks and pipits.
In medieval Europe, merlins were popular in falconry
For other uses of the term Merlin, see: Merlin.