A small, slim falcon with blackish upperparts and deep rufous underparts with rufous cheek, nape and throat. At close range black streaks can be seen on the throat and flanks. The facial skin and feet are yellow. Juvenile birds are browner above with heavier streaking on the underparts and paler on cheek, nape and throat. Length 20 cm, wingspan 70 cm.
Edge of moist woodlands and forests, commonest in palm savannah and gallery forest in west and western regions of East Africa. Less common in central Africa and north-eastern Africa.
Behaviour and diet
Hunts on the wing, mainly at dawn and dusk. When not breeding the African hobby is thought to feed almost entirely on flying insects: termite alates, grasshoppers, locusts, beetles and cicadas have all been recorded. Feeding concentrations of up to 30 birds have been recorded when termite alates or locusts are swarming. When breeding a high proportion of small birds such as weavers, estrildid finches and swallows up to the size of doves are favoured. It hunts either by making sorties from a perch or quartering across favoured hunting areas at 50-100m. Normally encountered as solitary birds but sometimes in pairs or small family groups. For nesting they use the old stick nests of other birds, especially black kite, which are situated high in a tree. Breeding has been recorded in December to June in the western part of the range, August to December in equatorial East Africa and September to January in southern Africa.
It is found in Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. This species can be nomadic, following food sources.
- Ferguson-Lees, James; Christie, David A. (2001). Raptors of the World. Illustrated by Kim Franklin, David Mead, and Philip Burton. Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 978-0-618-12762-7
- A.C. Kemp (1991), Sasol Birds of Prey of Africa, New Holland Publishers Ltd.
- African hobby (Falcon) - Species text in The Atlas of Southern African Birds.