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Pygmy Falcon
Polihierax semitorquatus

Status: Lower risk

Population Trend: Increasing.

Other Names: African Pygmy Falcon, African Pygmy-falcon.

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Polihierax semitorquatus
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Distribution: Afrotropical. Southern ETHIOPIA, SOMALIA, northeastern UGANDA and KENYA south to north-central TANZANIA, a small disjunct population in MOZAMBIQUE, and another disjunct population in southern ANGOLA and NAMIBIA. more....

Subspecies: Monotypic. more....

Taxonomy: Kemp and Crowe (1994) found that this species and all five species of Microhierax clustered separately from other falconet and Falco species, based on their analysis of 24 morphometric characters. From her study of syringeal morphology, Griffiths (1994) also found that the Pygmy Falcon forms a clade with Microhierax erythrogenys that is sister to Falco. Based on nucleotide sequences of the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene, Wink and Sauer-Gürth (2000, 2004) provided yet further confirmation of these relationships, also finding that this species and Microhierax (at least one species, the Philippine Falconet, M. erythogenys) represent sibling genera which form a sister group to the larger monophyletic Falco assemblage. The White-rumped Falcon, which had also been included in the genus Polihierax, is not closely related to the Pygmy Falcon and is basal to Falco and the falconets.

Movements: Probably non-migratory.

Habitat and Habits: Prefers open, semi-arid areas with sparse groundcover and scattered trees, particularly Camelthorns (Acacia erioloba) in arid grasslands (Kalahari, Namib, Karoo). The disjunct populations are separated into islands by tropical woodlands. In southern Africa, this species lives and nests in the haystack-like nests of Sociable Weavers (Philetairus socius) and sometimes near the nests of White-browed Sparrow-weavers (Plocepasser mahali). The distributions of these species closely mirror each other. In East Africa and Sudan, it uses the nests of the White-headed Buffalo Weaver (Dinemellia dinemelli), and the small, disjunct population in Mozambique is said to be associated with nests of Red-billed Buffalo Weavers (Bubalornis niger). Found singly, in pairs, or in small family groups, and often perches high in trees or on telephone poles. more....

Food and Feeding Behavior: Feeds shrike-like on insects, lizards, and small snakes, which it snatches from the ground after descending from an exposed perch and takes back to the perch to eat. Also takes small birds, which it captures in flight. Oddly, pygmy falcons sometimes take adults and nestlings of their weaver "hosts," albeit rarely (De Swardt 1990).

Breeding: Pygmy falcon nests are placed in a chamber of a large weaver nest, and the rim of the entrance becomes coated with pinkish-white droppings. Clutch size is 2-3 eggs, which are immaculate white and rather spherical. Both parents incubate, although the female's share is larger. The male provides food to the female and chicks. Two or more broods may be produced in a single year, if the food supply is adequate. more....

Conservation: Apparently common within each of the disjunct portions of its range. In the southern Kalahari region of South Africa, the artificial introduction of water into the region for livestock has dramatically increased numbers of both Sociable Weavers and African Pygmy Falcons (Mendelsohn 1997). Categorized as a species of "Least Concern" by BirdLife International. more....

Important References: 
Brown, L.H., E.K. Urban, and K. Newman. 1982. The birds of Africa. Vol. 1.
  Academic Press, London.
Ferguson-Lees, J., and D.A. Christie. 2001. Raptors of the world. Houghton
  Mifflin, Boston, MA.
Jenkins, A.R. 2005. Pygmy Falcon Polihierax semitorquatus. Pp. 544-545 in
  P.A.R. Hockey, W.R. J. Dean, and P.G. Ryan (eds.), Roberts Birds of Southern
  Africa. VIIth edition. Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape
  Town, South Africa.
Kemp, A.C. 1994. African Pygmy-falcon. P. 255 in del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott,
  and J. Sargatal (eds). Handbook of birds of the world. Vol. 2. New World
  vultures to guineafowl. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.
Kemp, A., and M. Kemp. 1998. Birds of prey of Africa and its islands. New
  Holland Publishers, London.
Maclean, G.L. 1970. The Pygmy Falcon, Polihierax semitorquatus. Koedoe
Mendelsohn, J.M. 1997. Pygmy Falcon. Pp. 274-275 in J.A. Harrison et al.
  (eds.), The atlas of South African birds. Volume 1: Non-passerines. BirdLife
  South Africa and Avian Demography Unit, Johannesburg, South Africa.
Steyn, P. 1982. Birds of prey of southern Africa: their identification and
  life histories. David Phillip, Cape Town, South Africa.
Tarboton, W., P. Pickford, and B. Pickford. 1990. African birds of prey.
  Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY.
Tarboton, W.R., and D.G. Allan. 1984. The status and conservation of birds
  of prey in the Transvaal. Transvaal Museum Monograph no. 3. Transvaal
  Museum, Pretoria, South Africa.

Sites of Interest:
Pgymy Falcon photos.

Last modified: 5/11/2010

Recommended Citation: Global Raptor Information Network. 2020. Species account: Pygmy Falcon Polihierax semitorquatus. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 4 Jul. 2020

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