Hobby

A Hobby is a fairly small, spectacular, fast falcon with long, narrow wings and wears red trousers. It is a summer visitor of open fields and woodland, often seen over flooded gravel pits.

It looks like an oversized Swift with its sickle like shape. It is the size of a Kestrel but more rakish with long pointed wings and short tail. The Hobby is dark blue-grey above and sports a black moustache on white cheeks. It is thickly streaked below with reddish flanks and red under the tail that makes it look like it is wearing rusty red trousers. The natty dresser of the falcon world. Both sexes look the same though, as with many bird of prey, the female is slightly larger. Hobbies are elegant flyers that have power and speed, capable of rapid acceleration and breathtaking turns.

The Hobby is the only bird of prey that regularly feeds on large insects, which it catches in flight with its feet, and eats while slowly soaring in circles. Big juicy dragonflies are a favourite, followed closely by grasshoppers and moths. It will also eat small birds. The Hobby is so agile it will even take Swallows, House Martins and bats in the air. Swallows and House Martins even have a characteristic "hobby" alarm call when one is about. It is fast enough to rob other predators like Kestrels.

Hobby courtship starts in May with dramatic soaring and diving aerobatics. This is quite late compared with other migrant birds. It nests in mature trees using the old nests of other birds like crows. The only time you will hear a Hobby is when it gives a "kew, kew, kew" call in the vicinity of the nest. The 2-4 eggs are laid in late in June and hatch after 28 days. Mum does most of the incubation while dad brings the food and occasionally relieves her when she fancies a wing stretch. The youngsters can fly 28 days later but depend on their parents for a month. It is thought Hobbies lay their eggs late so many inexperienced young birds are about for food when the youngster are ready to fly and learning to feed. With their late start, there is only time for one brood.

The Hobby is a summer visitor, found mainly in England though a rare few get as far as Scotland. There are 3,000 pairs and it is specially protected as its like for small birds has not made it a friend of gamekeepers. Its current biggest threat is egg thieves. The oldest known Hobby lived for 15 years though the average life span is 5 years.

The Latin is 'falco subbuteo' where 'falco' derives from the Latin 'falx' or 'falcis' for a sickle, referring to the claws of falcons and 'subbuteo' is from the Latin 'sub' for 'near to' and 'buteo' for 'buzzard'. A falcon near to a Buzzard. The English name comes from Old French 'hobé' or 'hobet'. Interestingly the inventor of the table top football game called it 'Subbuteo' because the Hobby was his favourite bird.

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