African Pygmy-falcon

Polihierax semitorquatus
Population status:
Least Concern
Body length:
18-21 cm (7-8.2 in)
34–40 cm (13.3-15.7 in)
44–72 g (1.5-2.5 oz)

Munir Virani

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Did You Know?

  • The African pygmy-falcon is the smallest raptor on the entire African continent.
  • Some researches have reported that African Pygmy-falcons in South Africa sometimes mimic calls of Sociable Weavers (Philetairus socius).
  • The African Pygmy-falcon can produce two or more broods of nestlings in a single year, as long as there is enough food.

Other Falcons

How The Peregrine Fund is Helping

Though The Peregrine Fund doesn't work directly with African Pygmy-falcons, our efforts in scientific research, habitat conservation, education, and community development help conserve raptors on a global scale. We also supply literature to researchers from our avian research library, which helps scientists around the world gather and share important information on raptor conservation.

Where They Live

This small falcon lives on the African continent. It is found in two disjunct (not connected) populations, one in eastern Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and other countries) and the other in southern Africa (Angola, Namibia, South Africa). These two populations are separated by tropical woodlands which the falcons tend to avoid. 

Rather, the African Pygmy-falcon spends its time in open, semi-arid landscapes with sparse ground cover and scattered trees, particularly Camelthorns (Acacia erioloba) in arid grasslands. It can be seen perching high in trees or on telephone poles.

This species roosts and nests on the nests of other birds, particularly weaver species including Social Weaver and White-headed Buffalo-weaver.

What They Do

The African Pygmy-falcon is a stunning bird! Like the American Kestrel, males and females differ slightly in coloration. Both have bright white bellies, breasts and faces. Their heads are a lovely light gray. Males also have gray backs, while the females' backs are a rich chestnut color. Their wings are decorated with black and white feathers and their tails are also barred black and white. In flight, their white rump patch becomes easily visible. They have dark eyes, yellow-orange feet and ceres, and a gray bill.

The African Pygmy-falcon is about the size of a shrike and has an unusual flight pattern for a falcon. The African Pygmy-falcon flies in an undulating manner - meaning it rises and falls slightly, up and down, up and down, as it flies.

Like most birds, this small falcon has a variety of calls and songs it uses to communicate with other members of its species. Researchers have described their main call as a quick series of 3–4 short squeals. 

Why They Need Our Help

The African Pygmy-falcon is categorized as Least Concern and its population appears to be stable. This means that researchers feel confident that this species' population will continue to do well into the foreseeable future. 

What They Eat

This small raptor is an accomplished hunter. Though it can take prey on the wing (particularly small birds), it prefers to wait on a perch and pounce on its prey from above. It has a varied diet that includes insects, such as beetles and grasshoppers, and lizards - including skinks. It also feeds on snakes and rodents. Once it has its prey clutched in its talons, it will bring its meal to an exposed perch to eat. Even though it is rare, this falcon has been documented preying on adults and nestlings of the weavers they share their nests with.

Nests, Eggs and Young

While the Ridgway's Hawk in Dominican Republic often builds its nest atop the multi-chambered nests of Palmchats, the African Pygmy-falcon takes it one step further. This small species places its nests directly inside a chamber of a large weaver (bird) nest. The African Pygmy-falcon nest is often distinguishable because the rim of the entrance becomes coated with pinkish-white droppings.

As nesting season gets underway, these falcons will engage more frequently in some beautiful displays that help form a pair bond with their chosen mate. These displays include vocalizations, as well as head-bobbing, bowing, and tail pumping.

When the time is right, the female will lay between 2 and 3 eggs. They are spherical and bright white. The eggs must be incubated for around a month. Though both the male and female are responsible for incubation duties, the female's share of the work is larger. However, this doesn't mean that the male isn't pulling his own weight. He is responsible for bringing food to the female and nestlings. When the nestlings hatch they are small and covered in soft, white down feathers. They will remain in the nest, growing and getting stronger, for about 30 days. At that time, they will be ready to fledge, or fly for the first time. These young birds will stay in their parents' territory for up to two more months as they learn to hunt and avoid danger. 

It is very interesting to note that researchers have reported that this species may engage in polyandrous behavior. This means that one female will mate with more than one male, yet each male only mates with one female. 

African Pygmy-falcon and World Center for Birds of Prey

Though we don't house any African Pygmy-falcons at the World Center for Birds of Prey, we have a number of interesting falcon species that serve as avian ambassadors during presentations and flight shows.  American Kestrels, Peregrine and Aplomado Falcons, among others, can be seen at our center. We also offer many other fun ways to learn about birds of prey. The visitor center has interactive displays, tours, interesting videos and a children's room with activities from coloring sheets to quizzes to costumes and a touch table for the curious mind.  Knowledgeable staff and volunteers are on hand to answer any questions you may have about African Pygmy-falcons or any other bird of prey.


BirdLife International. 2016. Polihierax semitorquatusThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T22696313A93554647. Downloaded on 01 June 2020.

Ferguson-Lees, J., and D. A. Christie (2001). Raptors of the World. Christopher Helm, London, UK.

Global Raptor Information Network. 2020. Species account: Pygmy Falcon Polihierax semitorquatus. Downloaded from on 1 Jun. 2020

Kemp, A.C., P. F. D. Boesman, and J. S. Marks (2020). Pygmy Falcon (Polihierax semitorquatus), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (J. del Hoyo, A. Elliott, J. Sargatal, D. A. Christie, and E. de Juana, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.