In "Spindle's End" by Robin McKinley, she talks about a "merrel" that lives (chained) in the rafters of the giant estate of the lord. From the bits and pieces of description and action, it's clear that it is some type of large bird. But googling "merrel" turns up no helpful results. (It doesn't help that there's a celebrity with last name and a shoe brand of "merrell".)

So: what is a "merrel"?

McKinley doesn't dwell on it enough for me to believe it's an animal that she made up. And it plays too significant of a symbolic role to be a fun, throw-away oddity. It's almost as if it's a reference to another fantasy world. (For instance, she often will casually reference the "fire-wyrms," but the idea of firewyrms have a rich presence in fantasy.) Or perhaps a creatively twisted wording of some ancient animal.

Any ideas of where this bird/animal comes from?

  • 1
    Merlin and kestrel are real bird types; perhaps this is somewhere between them? (Both are described as small falcons, FWIW.)
    – Martha
    Apr 21, 2020 at 16:56

1 Answer 1


This is certainly a fictional bird. The author has responded to a similar question on Twitter. However, no further details as to the appearance or nature of the bird seem to be available.

Q. Google is not being helpful... is a merrel a real bird? I can't seem to find anything about it.

Robin McKinley: Snork. What do you think? (Hint: no.)

  • 2
    It's always worth quoting from Twitter because sometimes people go on a rampage and delete their accounts.
    – Valorum
    Apr 21, 2020 at 16:32
  • Thank you!! That twitter thread validates a lot of my feels.
    – Aeryk
    Apr 21, 2020 at 16:45

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