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The merlin (Falco columbarius) is a small species of falcon from the Northern Hemisphere. It is the smallest raptor found in the UK but is a powerful flyer, distinguished from larger falcons by their rapid wingbeats and overall dark tones. The female Merlin is considerably larger than the male. Such sexual dimorphism is common among raptors; it allows males and females to hunt different prey animals and decreases the territory size needed to feed a mated pair. The Merlin is quite unafraid, and will readily attack anything that moves conspicuously. In the sport of falconry during the Middle Ages, Merlins were called “lady hawks, and were flown in spectacular ringing flights in pursuit of Skylarks by the ladies of the court. Falconers call the male Merlin a jack. The name “Merlin” comes from esmerillon, the old French name for the species. Merlins used to be called “pigeon hawks” because in flight they look somewhat pigeon-like. Their species name, columbarius, is also a reference to pigeons.
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