African Pygmy Falcon Fact File

Polihierax semitorquatus








Wild 6-8 years

Captive 20 years



Lizards, Insects

Conservation Status


Least Concern

African pygmy falcons are the smallest species of raptor found in Africa. Here they live across southern Africa in two main populations.

These birds make use of the nests of two species of weaver. They will take over chambers in their nest for themselves. The weavers receive some benefit as the falcons will attack snakes which attempt to enter the nest.

They will perch in a tree during the day and keep a watch out for their prey which includes insects, reptiles and small birds.

Currently the population of African pygmy falcons is believed to be stable and no major threats to them are recognized.

Learn more about these brilliant birds by reading on below.


African pygmy falcons are considered sexually dimorphic. Males have a grayish head, back and wings with a pale area across the face, underparts and rump. The flight feathers are black. On the under tail feathers are barred with black and white.

Females can be easily distinguished due to the chestnut plumage which is present along their back. Juvenile birds also have brown skin across the back.

Around the dark brown eye is a bare, reddish patch of skin. They have a grayish bill with a dark tip. Their legs and feet are pink or red-orange.

The African pygmy falcon measures 20cm (8in) long with a wingspan of up to 37cm (14in) across. They have an average weight of 42-85g (2-3oz). African pygmy falcons are the smallest species of raptor found in Africa.


African pygmy falcons are carnivores. They feed on insects, reptiles such as snakes and lizards or small birds.

Occasionally they perform short chases in the air to catch food but these are rare. Hunting often occurs in pairs or family groups.

Their hooked beak helps to rip the flesh of their prey.

African pygmy falcon


Africa is the native home of the African pygmy falcon. Here they can be found in the south of the country within the following countries - Angola; Botswana; The Democratic Republic of the Congo; Ethiopia; Kenya; Namibia; Rwanda; Somalia; South Africa; South Sudan; Sudan; Tanzania and Uganda.

Their range is divided in to two populations. One in South-west Africa uses the nests of the sociable weaver (Philetairus socius) while in East Africa the population uses the nests of the White-headed Buffalo Weaver (Dinemellia dinemelli). Some have also been recorded to use nests of white-browed sparrow weavers and glossy starlings.


The African pygmy falcon will make its home in dry, arid areas including savanna, shrubland and grassland.

Their habitat often has sparse vegetation with large trees and plants.

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Breeding season is variable across their range. In the north east it occurs from June to December while in Southern Africa it lasts from August to March.

Pairs will engage in displays where they bob the head, wag the tail and call. If a female accepts the males advances she will squat and raise her tail feathers to indicate she is ready to mate.

Most pairs of African pygmy falcons are monogamous and remain together for many breeding seasons. Pairs are extremely defensive of their nest and chase any animals which attempt to enter it. Records exist of two males caring for a single nest.

For nesting African pygmy falcons make use of abandoned nests of weaver birds. Up to six chambers within the nest may be used by the falcon pair. They may live alongside the sociable weavers in peace without attacking them.

At the door to their nest will be often be droppings which turn pink over time.

They also assist their neighbors by catching and eating snakes which may seek to invade the nest.

In to their nest they will deposit 2 to 4 white eggs roughly three weeks after mating which will hatch after a four week incubation period. The eyes of the juveniles open after two to three days.

Young first leave the nest after a month. The adult pair often nest soon after these young leave the nest. The chicks may remain nearby for up to a year though.

Sexual maturity is reached at one year old.


African pygmy falcons often perch in the the open before they will bob their head and then fly down to seize the prey item.

These birds produce a range of vocalizations. These include a range of high-pitched calls. While vocalizing they often bob their head and move the tail up and down.

They are less active during winter they will spend up to 15 hours each day within their nest.

Hunting takes place in the morning or late afternoon which means they can avoid the heat during the midday.

African pygmy falcon

Predators and Threats

These animals are believed to have a wide range and stable population leading the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to list them as least concern.

Urbanization may eventually threaten them with habitat loss in parts of their range though in many areas man-made structures have actually provided additional nesting sites.

Quick facts

The African pygmy falcon is the smallest raptor in Africa.

African pygmy falcon

Photo Credits


Sumeet Moghe, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Middle One

Public Domain

Middle Two and Bottom

Derek Keats from Johannesburg, South Africa, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons


Alderton, D. and Barrett, P., 2019. The complete illustrated encyclopedia of birds of the world. Lorenz Books, p.351. 2021. Exhibits. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 7 July 2021].

BirdLife International. 2016. Polihierax semitorquatus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T22696313A93554647. Downloaded on 07 July 2021. 2021. African Pygmy Falcon. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 7 July 2021].

Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens (LA Zoo). 2021. African Pygmy Falcon | Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens (LA Zoo). [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 7 July 2021].

Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden®. 2021. African Pygmy Falcon - Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden®. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 7 July 2021].

Davieau, D. 2008. "Polihierax semitorquatus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed July 07, 2021 at 2021. African Pygmy Falcon | Franklin Park Zoo. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 7 July 2021]. 2021. African Pygmy Falcon | San Diego Zoo Animals & Plants. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 7 July 2021].

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