Pygmy Falcon (Polihierax semitorquatus)

Pygmy Falcon

[order] FALCONIFORMES | [family] Falconidae | [latin] Polihierax semitorquatus | [authority] Smith, 1836 | [UK] Pygmy Falcon | [FR] Fauconnet d’ Afrique | [DE] Halsband-Zwergfalke | [ES] Hacloncito Africano | [NL] Afrikaanse Dwergvalk


Monotypic species


Members of the Polihierax genus are small to very small falcons. Their wings are rather short, but quite pointed; the tail rounded to strongly graduated. The talons are very sharp, and the beak has a prominent ‘tooth’. The sexes are quite different in colour; the females having bright chestnut on the head or back.
The genus contains two species, one African, one south-western Asian. These species are quite different and are regarded by some as forming sub-genera. A third relative, even more isolated geographically, is Spiziapteryx of Argentina, which is very closely related. Both genera are related to Microhierax.

Physical charateristics

The adult male has a white forehead and dark blue-grey crown, separated from the back by a white collar. The back and upper-wing coverts are also blue-grey, but paler than crown. The upper tail coverts are white. The tail and wing quills are black, spotted on the outer web and notched and barred with white on the inner web. The sides of the face and hind neck, and all under parts are white. They have brown eyes brown, red-orange cere, and red legs. Females differ from the male in having a maroon or chestnut back. Immature – the feathers of the crown, neck and back are edged reddish, the under side buff. Immature females lack the chestnut mantle. Legs and cere are paler than in the adult.

wingspan min.: 34 cm wingspan max.: 40 cm
size min.: 18 cm size max.: 22 cm
incubation min.: 28 days incubation max.: 30 days
fledging min.: 27 days fledging max.: 40 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 2  
      eggs max.: 4  


Africa : East, South. The African Pigmy Falcon can only be found in the drier parts of Eastern and Southern Africa from Somalia and the Sudan south to the Orange River.


A quite delightful little bird, the African Pigmy Falcon is generally found in semi-arid country, and usually in pairs. It is found only in desert and thornbush country.


It breeds in the nests of other birds. In South Africa the host species is commonly the Sociable Weaver (Philetairus socius), but it is also recorded as using buffalo-weavers’ nests and starlings’ nests. In East Africa the nest site is almost always the nest of the White-headed Buffalo weaver (Dinemellia dinemelli). If it uses nests of starlings these may have been constructed inside the thorny nests of Buffalo-weavers, and it seems to prefer Buffalo-weavers’ nests which have been lined with grass by other species. The little falcon uses these nests when the weavers are not breeding, and does not usually usurp the rights of the lawful occupant. Buffalo-weavers, which are larger than the falcon, do not apparently resent its presence, but Sociable-weavers do, and are more over eaten on occasion by their visitor.
Two or three eggs are laid at times that vary across its range. The female is said to incubate alone, and is fed by the male.

Feeding habits

The diet of the African Pigmy Falcon is almost entirely insects, but it is also known occasionally to take small lizards, snakes, and small birds, in the pursuit of which it can be very active and rapacious. They perch on bushes, trees, posts or other vantage points and from them make short flights to catch insects which are their common prey

Video Pygmy Falcon


copyright: Josep del Hoyo


This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be stable, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Pygmy Falcon status Least Concern



Distribution map

Pygmy Falcon distribution range map

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