Last weekend I was in Boorowa, about 330 km SE of Sydney, in a group walking a patch of river red gums on the edge of Castles Creek. There was a high wind, such that the eucalyptus leaves were flying horizontally, not hanging vertically as they usually do. We noticed what seemed to be a very wind-blown bird of prey high up in a tree on the other side of the creek:
It was too small to be a peregrine falcon, but as we approached we recognised it as a dejected-looking Australian Hobby or Little Falcon.
After a few minutes it took off:
After circling briefly, it returned to a nearby perch. We had also moved in the meantime, giving us a different perspective.
Five minutes later we heard a rapid ‘kee-kee-kee-kee--‘ and a second Hobby flew into sight:
It flew past the first hobby into another part of the tree where we couldn’t see it. Eventually we moved on into the grove of trees, but on the return leg, 40 minutes later, we saw that the first bird was still there, still looking windblown:
I was really pleased to have seen these two birds as it was over eight years since I’d seen a Hobby. The previous occasion was on the opposite side of the continent, just inland from the 3.5 billion year-old stromatolites at Jurien on Shark Bay. There, the Hobbies were nesting at the top of a eucalypt, and again, the wind was blowing strongly, making photography a bit tricky. It was also about 25°C warmer. (Spoiler reminder for vegans – Hobbies are carnivorous hunters.)
The first thing I saw was a young bird, distinguished by the brown patch at the back of its head:
Then a parent arrived with its next meal:
It moved up a branch, giving me my clearest view of it—and also of the large bugs on the branch:
Here’s a close-up from another frame:
The parent hopped onto the nest, and there was a flurry of activity mostly hidden from me by the nest:
A few seconds later the parent reappeared, no longer carrying any food. The show was over, so I left them to it.
The Australian Hobby (Falco longipennis) is our smallest falcon. It is a separate species from the Eurasian Hobby (Falco subbuteo) for which it is named, but they are much the same size and have similar habits. Prey is mostly small birds, but also insects and small bats, generally taken on the wing. They can be fierce little hunters, and have been known to take birds as large as rosellas.
Hobbies are found throughout Australia and Tasmania, but are not particularly common in any part of their range. The name Hobby dates at least back to the Middle Ages, when falconry was a common sport, but it is not related to “hobby” as a pastime or leisure activity, rather it derives from an old French name for the bird.
Footnote: I was in Boorowa helping a Willoughby council group doing wildlife counts at farm sites revegetated under a joint program between North Sydney Bushcare and Boorowa Community Landcare. Last year’s trip is described here.