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 Hobby - Fact File


Falco subbuteo
Uncommon but increasing summer visitor to England, mainly in the south. Winters in Africa.
Heaths, woodland edges and farmland.

Fast flyer with long sharply pointed wings. Blue-black upperparts with rufous vent distinctive. Hunts birds and large insects, especially dragonflies (eats insects on the wing).

28 - 35 cm (11 - 14")


Apart from stragglers, all our local swifts departed well in advance of mid-August. Their stay here is so short; in fact, I did not record them this spring until May 11. The skies are again silent and their shrill screaming greatly missed.

Shortly before the main swift departure my elder son became aware of high-pitched distress calls in his Thorpe garden. It was almost dusk, but within a short distance of his windows was a hobby pinning an unfortunate swift to the ground.

The hobby is one of the very few birds of prey capable of outflying swifts; perhaps at a speed approaching 100mph. The literature presents a full catalogue of victims, extending to escaped budgerigars which are taken regularly.

Hobbies provide impressive aerobatic displays spending much of their time in high soaring flight almost out of sight before plummeting earthward with closed wings at a great speed. Wings are spread only when the birds are within a few feet of the ground.

Fortunate observers have described exceptionally fast pursuit flights. These involve dashing over treetops, diving earthward together, sailing skyward to hang in the wind and then careering high in the heavens with the male even looping the loop as his partner twists and flies on her back to the accompaniment of shrill calls.

After the young hobbies leave the nest, their parents continue feeding them but within a few days they will hunt slow-flying beetles before turning their attention to such rapidly moving grey as dragonflies. Only much later, following prolonged aerial games, do they try hunting birds or bats.

Hobby in flightHobbies regularly hunt late in the evening seeking insects which appear at dusk, as well as on flocks of swallows about to enter reedbed roosts. A migrant hobby will sometimes linger for days at Hickling, Strumpshaw or Titchwell Reserves, each of which attracts swarms of roosting swallows during early autumn. Perhaps hobbies follow prey south to tropical Africa in the same manner that skuas follow terns.

A hobby in high aerobatic pursuit of flying prey demonstrates a wonderful mastery of the air. Victims are almost invariably taken on the wing, often consisting of birds which are themselves swift fliers.

.By Michael J Seago

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Illustrations by Dave Nurney from - The Pocket Guide to the Birds Of Britain and North-West Europe By Chris Kightley and Steve Madge
© Pica Press and reproduced with kind permission.