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Pygmy Falcon – Field Guide, Pictures, Habitat, and Info 

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pygmy falcon perching on a branch

When we think of birds of prey, we usually think of bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, and peregrine falcons. But there are some species that fly under the radar, with some interesting features that no other aerial critters have. One of those species would undoubtedly be the pygmy falcon, an incredible bird endemic to Africa’s pristine wilderness. Let’s find out what makes this falcon so unique!

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Quick Facts About Pygmy Falcons

pygmy falcon on a thorn tree
Image By: Etienne Steenkamp, Unsplash
Habitat: Flat, arid grasslands/shrublands
Diet: Reptiles, rodents, small birds, insects
Behavior: Aerial hunter
Nesting: Weaver nests
Conservation: Low-risk
Scientific name: Polihierax semitorquatus
Lifespan: 6 to 8 years

Pygmy Falcon General Description

Better known as the African pygmy falcon, this apex bird is covered in a distinct pattern of red, white, and gray feathers across its body. Its back and wings are a reddish-brown color, with its belly and throat painted in cream white. The outer edges of the pygmy falcon’s eyes are a yellow and orange color, contrasted with black pupils and a gray crown. The species is quite small for a falcon, as they have a compact and fluffy plumage. 

Pygmy Falcon Range, Habitat, Behavior, Diet & Nesting

Pygmy falcon
Pygmy falcon (Image Credit: Derek Keats, Wikimedia Commons CC 2.0 Generic)


As the name suggests, it’s a resident of Africa—namely the eastern and southern regions of the continent. Pygmy falcons can be seen in countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Somalia to the east as well as Namibia and Angola to the south. 


This falcon species inhabits dry, grassy biomes where they have open space to scout for food. These flat, dry regions are full of reptiles, rodents, and other small birds. However, the trees are quite spread out, so nesting spaces are limited. 


Head and tail gestures are the primary ways that pygmy falcons communicate physiologically. This may be head-bobbing (up and down) or tail shakes (side to side). Their hunting tends to be during dusk or dawn and they use aerial tactics to catch prey.


The pygmy falcon is a predatory bird that hunts reptiles (lizards, snakes, etc.), small birds, rodents, and insects. The African wilderness is plentiful with wildlife, but this bird’s size makes it less powerful than other birds of prey. These falcons rely on their agility and diving to catch food unexpectedly. 


Due to their range similarities, pygmy falcons take the nests of white-headed buffalo, red-billed buffalo, and sociable weavers. This is a huge benefit to their energy consumption, as they can take over pre-built nests without needing to build them with natural resources. 

African Pygmy Falcon Female
African Pygmy Falcon Female (Image Credit: Sumeet Moghe, Wikimedia Commons CC SA 4.0 International)

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How to Find Pygmy Falcons: Birdwatching Tips

What to Listen For

The pygmy falcon’s call is high-pitched as they make a ‘kick-kick-kick’ that quickly increases in frequency. It’s also wise to listen for chipping sounds; but don’t forget to listen to rustling leaves or the sound of nearby prey. 

What to Look For

When out in the Serengeti or shrublands, seek out any trees that may be a home for the pygmy falcon. One issue with the pygmy falcon is its small size, which makes it difficult to spot compared to other birds of prey. Keep your eyes peeled for nests, and the reddish-orange color contrasted with their white feathers.

When to Look

The best time to find them in action is during dusk and dawn. At this time, it’s likely that you will see them swooping down to hunt prey and returning to their nest. This can be great to find out where other pygmy falcons are situated. 

Pygmy falcon
Pygmy falcon (Image Credit: Derek Keats, Wikimedia Commons CC 2.0 Generic)

Attracting Pygmy Falcons to Your Backyard 

Unfortunately, pygmy falcons are not backyard birds. They are exclusively found in protected African parks, which are the only means of getting to see them in person. Additionally, their nesting is situated in very specific areas and they will not relocate unless their environment becomes unsuitable. 

Pygmy Falcon Conservation: Is This Bird Threatened?

The pygmy falcon isn’t exactly endangered, as there is an estimated 100,000 to 1 million total in the wild. However, deforestation is their main concern, as trees aren’t plentiful in shrublands. Not only that, but due to their reliance on weaver nests, any effects of that species can ultimately impact the falcon as well. Luckily, white-headed buffalo weavers have a stable population. 

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Final Thoughts

Pygmy falcons are the smallest bird of prey in Africa, but that doesn’t make them weak predators. They are willing to sacrifice themselves to protect their young and their size-to-strength ratio is impressive. This species’ colors and body type make for a worthwhile birding experience. Not many people in the west have been able to witness them in person – so take a trip to the Serengeti to see one for yourself!

Featured Image Credit: 4011396, Pixabay

About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.