Hobby

A Hobby is a fairly small, spectacular, fast flying falcon with long, narrow wings that 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-shaped wings. It is the size of a Kestrel but more rakish, with long pointed wings and a short tail. The Hobby is dark blue-grey above and sports a black moustache on its 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. It is the natty dresser of the falcon world. Both sexes look the same though, as with many birds of prey, the female is slightly bigger and bossier. Hobbies are elegant flyers that have power and speed, capable of rapid acceleration and breath-taking turns when catching prey.

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 can even catch Swallows, House Martins and bats. Swallows and House Martins have a characteristic "hobby" alarm call when one is about. It is fast enough to rob other predators, like Kestrels, of their catches.

Hobby courtship starts in May with dramatic soaring and diving aerobatics. This is quite late compared to 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 its 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 that Hobbies lay their eggs late, so many inexperienced young birds are about for food when the youngsters are ready to fly and learning to feed. With their late start, there is only time for them to have 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 liking to eat 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 usually 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 tabletop football game called it 'Subbuteo' because the Hobby was his favourite bird.

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