Great Basin Naturalist


Most ornithological literature for Utah reports the status of the Merlin (Falco columbarius) as rare or scarce. Only the most recently published checklists (Behle and Perry 1975, Behle et al. 1985) record it as uncommon. Likewise, a 1998 printed checklist (Utah Ornithological Society 1998) lists it as uncommon. Also misrepresented in the literature are the status and distribution of the 3 rather distinct subspecies, each of which occupies dissimilar habitats during the breeding season. We made random observations of Merlins in northern Utah beginning in the 1950s and then studied them continuously between 1992 and 1997 in Utah County, Utah. During the 1992–1997 period, we were able to clearly allocate 95 males and 76 females to subspecies, including within our count 58 falcons trapped (some fitted with radio telemetry). The winter habitat in which they occurred was categorized as either urban (mainly dense residential area) or rural (agricultural lands, dairy farms, or scattered homes). There was a statistically significant (χ2 < 0.001) difference in habitat use, with the boreal forest–breeding F. c. columbarius frequenting urban areas 68% of the time, and prairie parkland–breeding F. c. richardsonii frequenting rural habitats 78% of the time.