Saturday, 2 February 2013

African Pygmy Falcon

order : Falconiformes      Genus & Species : Falconidae     Family : Polihierax semitorquatus

Unlike other birds of prey that build a large solitary nest, the African pygmy falcon lives alongside a friendly host, the sociable weaver, and adopts a chamber in the weaver nest. Despite its small size, the pygmy falcon is a bold predator armed with sharp talons and a strong, hooked beak for catching and killing its prey. They found in eastern and southern Africa: parts of Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda, Kenya,Tanzania, Angola,Transvaal, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. 

Habitat : The African pygmy falcon lives in two distinct and widely separated populations in Africa: one in the southwestern part of the continent and the other in the northeast. In either part of the continent, the pygmy falcon inhabits the arid and semiarid savannah and scrubland, which features sparse groundcover and scattered large trees dotting the landscape. The African pygmy falcon typically avoids open forests and forest edges.This falcon also frequents the huge nests of weavers, especially the sociable weaver, Philetairus socius, sharing its roosting and nesting site. The pygmy falcon occasionally shares the nests of the whiteheaded buffalo weaver and those of the sparrow weaver. 
Food & Hunting : The African pygmy falcon mostly feeds on insects and lizards, though occasionally rodents and small birds are consumed. In spite of its small size, the African pygmy falcon is a voracious predator, like birds of prey. Perching from a tall tree, the pygmy falcon watches the ground below for movement from a potential meal. Once its victim is sighted, the pygmy falcon quickly dives to the ground, snatching its victim in its talons, and taking it back to the perch to be eaten. Like all falcons, the African pygmyfalcon regurgitates 1–2 pellets daily, which contain all the indigestible food fragments, such as fur and bones. 
Behavior : African pygmy falcons are diurnal, with activity peaks in the early morning and late afternoon. They usually roost during the hotter parts of the day.These falcons are rapid and agile in flight, darting through the air in quick bursts, similar to those of a woodpecker. Because of their small size, African pygmy falcons are able to share the nest colony of sociable weavers. These huge nests provide a safe,weatherproof environment for the falcons. The falcons do not bother the weavers beyond the eviction of 1–2 pairs and occasionally killing a chick when other food is scarce. While the falcon pairs enjoy the benefits of the weavers’ work, the weavers gain a pair of bodyguards to protect them from snakes, such as cobras, that prey upon the nest chambers. The sociable weavers happily continue to add and maintain the nest in spite of having an uninvited roommate. 
Breeding : Courtship begins in the summer and includes the male feeding his mate. The female performs exaggerated tail-wagging displays. No nest is built; instead the pair moves into a chamber in the nest colony of sociable weavers, which is comprised of a huge haystack structure built into a tree and contains chambers of up to 50 active weaver nests. Each chamber is enclosed and is reached from below through a narrow vertical tunnel.The falcon pair evicts 1–2 pairs of weavers from their nests, then the female lays from 2–4 eggs. While both parents incubate for about 30 days, the female’s share of the task is larger.The male provides his mate, and later the chicks, with food.The chicks are helpless at birth, but fledge in 28–30 days. They remain with their parents for 1–2 months after fledging before becoming completely independent. 

Bill : Like all birds of prey, the falcon’s bill is sharp and hooked for tearing flesh.At the base of the bill is an area of bare skin called the cere; this skin protects the nostrils while the bird is feeding. 
Eyes : Large eyes provide acute vision for capturing small prey on the open savannah. The fovea, a depression in the retina, serves to magnify images. 
Feet : Strong toes with sharp, curved talons are used as weapons when hunting.Three toes face forward while the hind toe (hallux) is backward, allowing the falcon to firmly grip and crush its prey. 
Tail : The long, broad tail aids in steering when the falcon dives for prey. It also acts as a brake when landing. 
Plumage : The female pygmy falcon is mainly gray above and white below, including the forehead and face. She has a white neck ring and a rich, deep chestnut back. The male is easily distinguished from the female by his full-gray back, but has a similar white front and face. Like the female, the male has a barred tail and black flight feathers with white spots. 

Weight : 2–3.5 oz. 
Length : 7-8"
Wingspan : 12-14.5"
Breeding Season : Summer season 

In the Kalahari region of Africa, pygmy falcons occupy about one out of every four sociable weaver colonies.

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