The African Bird That Can Catch Insects while Flying | Pygmy Falcon

Audacious hunter and courageous nest guard, the African, pygmy falcon, is Africa’s tiniest raptor (adults are about the length of a ball point pen). This smallest African raptor is a pocket sized yet powerful falcon; plus, it’s incredibly cute. They make unusual living arrangements, preferring to take over a few chambers of a large, communal weaver bird nest rather than building their own roost.

The pygmy falcons are helpful nest guests because of their hunting skills, reducing the number of snakes and other predators in their dry bush habitat.

The white-rumped Polihierax insignis and the African P. semitorquatus are the two species of pygmy falcon. The former can be found from South Sudan, southward, through, Somalia, Uganda and Tanzania. The latter can be found from Angola to South Africa in South West Africa.

Both species can be viewed in zoos around the world such as Cincinnati Zoo, while Buffalo Springs National Reserve, Kenya has a large population.

Physical Description the Pygmy Falcon

These little carnivores, unlike most other raptors, display sexual dimorphism, with males and females having distinctive markings. Males have a pure grey back, while females have a sharp chestnut brown mantle between the wings. The hooked beak is curved adapted, for tearing prey.

The African Bird That Can Catch Insects while Flying | Pygmy Falcon

Their flight feathers are black with white tips and dots. Their heads are grey, their eyes are dark brown, and their legs and feet are pale orange. It has a creamy white underbelly. It has an orange ring around its eyes and a short, pointed beak.

Fantastic Facts About Pygmy Falcons

  • Pygmy falcons can catch insects inflight.
  • The wing span of a pygmy falcon is only about 14 inches (37 centimeters).
  • Pygmy falcons prefer to take dust baths than water baths
  • Pygmy falcons are very vocal, constantly squeaking
  • Pygmy falcons have about 8 times better vision than humans

Diet and Habitat of Pygmy Falcon

These birds, which are native to Africa, prefer arid and semi-arid steppes with little ground cover and scattered big trees or huge aloe plants. The birds need to be able to view possible prey on the ground while still being able to catch a meal from a safe perch.

Pygmy falcons often bob their heads and tails before swooping in for the kill when they find a tempting target. These audacious predators eat lizards, large insects, small rodents, birds, and other arthropods, among other small prey. They will occasionally take a host weaver adult or chick. They normally hunt from a vantage point and catch their prey on the ground.

Interaction within Species

Weaver bird nests are used by African pygmy falcons for roosting and nesting, particularly by sociable weavers in South Africa and white-headed buffalo weavers in northeast Africa. They also take up residence in sparrow-weaver and glossy starling nests.

Until the young leave the nest chamber, pairs and their chicks roost together in the same weaver nest room. The African pygmy falcon likes larger weaver nest masses, taking up 12 to 25% of all accessible nest masses. It builds its nests in up to six chambers. ​

These diminutive falcons protect their dwelling from snakes and rodents. The African pygmy falcon is known as a “nest pirate” because of its dwelling arrangement.

Habitat of Pygmy Falcon

This small falcon is usually a resident in the areas where it is found, but there is some local movement in the drier sections of its range, where they migrate to moister habitats as necessary. During the cold winter months, it is confined to its nest chamber for up to 15 hours a day, resulting in “moderate hypothermia,” according to the Handbook of the Birds of the World.

Despite their small size, these falcons will bravely chase away predators larger than themselves, especially if eggs or chicks are in the nest. This provides a symbiotic relationship with weaver birds whom provide a home in return for protection from predators.

The African Bird That Can Catch Insects while Flying | Pygmy Falcon
Pygmy Falcons Make Homes in Weaver Bird Nests

Breeding Habits of the Pygmy Falcon

During breeding season, songs are sung to entice possible partners. Important information is also communicated through bodily communication like as head bobbing and tail feather lifting. Males may produce a “thin, squeaky” call to a female, and young animals emit a piercing ringing sound when threatened.

Females occasionally breed with numerous males (polyandrous), according to some experts, and it is not uncommon for two or more males to frequent the same nest. This behavior could indicate a lack of adequate nesting places.

The African Bird That Can Catch Insects while Flying | Pygmy Falcon
The African Bird That Can Catch Insects while Flying | Pygmy Falcon

In northeast Africa, the female lays its eggs between June and December, and in South Africa, between August and March. In good years, double clutching is fairly unusual. Prior to nesting, the amount of calling, head-bobbing, and bowing behaviors, as well as tail-pumping, increases. The female will squat down and raise her tail feathers to the one(s) she prefers, and eggs will be laid shortly after.

The couple lives in a weaver nest chamber, with white droppings that turn pink over time on the entrance lip. After nearly a month of incubation, the falcon’s eggs hatch. As a result of the asynchronous hatching, the size of the young may vary.

Chicks have fluffy white down feathers and fledge between 27 and 40 days after hatching. About two months after fledging, the younglings return to the mother nest.

African Pygmy Falcon at Cincinnati Zoo

Conservation Status of the African Pygmy Falcon

Least concern by the IUCN
Least concern by the IUCN

Each of the disjunct regions of its range appears to be common. The intentional injection of water into the southern Kalahari region of South Africa for livestock has greatly increased the numbers of both Sociable Weavers and African Pygmy Falcons (Mendelsohn 1997).

The IUCN has classified this species as “Least Concern.”

Q & A About Pygmy Falcon

What is the size of a pygmy falcon?

It can be up to 20 cm in length.

What order does a Pygmy Falcon belong to?

Pygmy falcons belong to the order: falconiformes

What is the average lifespan of a pygmy falcon?

Pygmy falcons live several years in the wild, though when well cared for, in captivity can live fir about 15 years.

In what order do pygmy falcons belong?

Pygmy falcons belong to the order: falconiformes

In which genus do pygmy falcons belong?

Pygmy falcons belong in the genus: falconiformes

Are pygmy falcons nocturnal?

Pygmy falcons are diurnal, meaning they are active by day.

Read more about Buffalo Springs, Kenya.

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