Kikuyu Escarpment Pygmy Falcon

The Pygmy-falcon is a falcon that lives in parts of eastern and southern Africa, the smallest raptor of the continent. As a small falcon, only 19 to 20 cm long, it preys on insects, small reptiles and even small mammals.Adult Pygmy-falcons are white below and on the face, grey above, the female having a chestnut back. There are white “eye spots” on the nape. Juveniles have a brown back, duller than adult females, and a rufous wash on the breast. The flight feathers of the wings are spotted black and white (more black above, more white below); the tail is barred black and white.Pygmy-falcons occasionally engage in polyandrous relationships, where there are more than two adults living together and tending nestlings. There are four potential reasons for this behavior: defense, co-operative polyandry, delayed dispersal of offspring, and thermoregulation (warmth).Though traditionally kept by the Agikuyuthe birds are today only found in the wild .The Kikuyu Escarpment is one search place.

The Kikuyu Escarpment forest lies 30 km north-north-west of Nairobi, and covers the eastern slopes of the escarpment from about 2,700 m in the north-west (bordering grassland at the edge of the Kinangop Plateau, to around 2,050 m in the east, where it borders agricultural land. The main block of forest (sometimes called Kieni) lies either side of the Kamae–Kieni–Thika road, and is bounded to the north by the Chania river; northwards it is continuous with the forest of the southern Aberdare mountains .On the south-west, a narrow strip extends along the wall of the Rift Valley, beyond Kijabe, down to c.1,800 m. To the south, the forest has been much fragmented, and there are only scattered remnants towards its limits (including the Gatamaiyu forest, near Uplands).

The topography is rugged, with many steep-sided valleys containing fast-flowing permanent streams. Mixed bamboo and forest in the higher north-west sector give way below 2,400 m to broadleaved forest.The forest was logged over extensively in the 1950s and 1960s, but many parts in the main block have regenerated well. As well as several roads, a major water pipeline passes through the forest from Sasumua Dam, which supplies Nairobi with water. Judging from aerial photography, slightly more than half of the gazetted area is now closed-canopy forest, most of it in a single block in the east-central part of the reserve. There are extensive areas of plantation and cleared land on the western perimeter of this main block, and the south-western strip and southern sections are a patchy mosaic of degraded forest remnants, scrub, cultivation and plantation.The Pygmy Falcon is found in this area, though it migrates to the Amboseli National Park, Mount Kilimanjaro, Aberdare Ranges, Samburu National Reserve, Northern Mount Kenya,Lake Baringo, Lake Bogoria to escape the cold central highland winters.

The human pressure on this forest has been increasing steadily over time. Encroachment along the southern and western boundaries is intensifying, and at lower altitudes large parts have been destroyed. Tree poaching has become rampant in the forest bordering the main Kieni–Thika road, and in the southern remnants. It is evident that the Forest Department is able to exert very little control. The conservation value of the forest must be more widely recognized, and adequate effort put into policing and managing it—preferably as a joint operation between Forest Department and Kenya Wildlife Service under their Memorandum of Understanding. Closer involvement of the surrounding communities in forest conservation is also needed: some progress has been made in this regard by an active IBA Site Support Group, the Kijabe Environment Volunteers. This forest is close to Nairobi, easily accessible, scenically attractive, has a wide range of interesting and unusual birds, and is already a favourite site for local and foreign birdwatchers. It has excellent potential for ecotourism.

(*Traditional falconry was practiced by young uncircumcised Kikuyu boys as they looked after family cattle and sheep.Today the Pygmy Falcon is a protected bird and traditional falconry is illegal.)


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