Merlin

Latin name: Falco columbarius

Family: Falconidae

The merlin is the smallest bird of prey in the UK but by combining speed and agility it is a fearsome hunter. It can be found on moorland and moorland fringes of the Yorkshire Dales National Park where it is able to catch a wide range of small bird species with meadow pipits being a favoured meal. The merlin nests on a number of moors in the National Park where suitable tall stands of heather are present. The importance of many of the heather moorlands in the Dales for species such as the merlin has led to their designation as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs).

At risk?

During the last merlin survey in 1993 and 1994, there were estimated to be around 40 to 50 pairs of merlin in the National Park. The results from several long-term studies in the Yorkshire Dales suggest that there has been a slight population decline in recent years. It is also apparent from one long-term study site in the National Park that a number of merlins breeding in the Yorkshire Dales have originated from sites north or south of the area. This indicates that the population in the Yorkshire Dales may be dependent on the recruitment of birds from other areas of northern England. The RSPB has allocated an Amber conservation status to the merlin.

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The unfolding of Grass Wood throughout the year is a story of rich fulfilment. From 'Wharfedale' by Ella Pontefract & Marie Hartley

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