In Britain, the Hobby is the only falcon that spends the winter months south of the Sahara desert. Birds can be seen here between late march and late October. Once largely confined to southern areas of the UK, breeding Hobbies are now widely distributed south of a line from the Humber to the Mersey, with the first breeding record for Scotland being confirmed in 2001. Breeding has still not been proven in Ireland but the presence of birds during the summer months might mean it is only a matter of time until it is.
Hobby is a difficult bird to survey, particularly in farmland habitats that are seldom visited by birdwatchers. However, the Hobby has undergone a large-scale expansion, consolidating their range in the south and expanding into the north, east and west, and undergoing a 16% population increase between 1995-2010.
Population estimates range from around 1,000 pairs to over 2,000 pairs, with the latter perhaps being more realistic. The reasons behind this success are only speculative but are thought to be linked to an increase in its dragonfly prey as a result of an increase in gravel pits and reservoirs, and also possibly linked to climate change. As a result the conservation status of the Hobby is green, and of least concern.
The entire British breeding population of Hobbies migrates south to spend the winter months in tropical Africa; the exact location is still a bit of a mystery, although two birds fitted with satellite tags that spent the winter months on the southern edge of the Congo rainforest, in Angola, might hint at the winter location of some British Hobbies too.
The first returning hobbies can be seen during the last few days of March, with spring migration peaking between mid-April and mid-May. Autumn migration largely takes place between mid-August and mid-September with the very latest birds still being recorded towards the end of October. Unfettered by the broad wings and heavy wing loading of larger birds of prey, Hobbies don’t need to use thermals to undertake sea crossings, and as a result probably migrate on a much broader front. This is borne out by the relatively small number that are observed at migration bottlenecks. In the winter quarters, Hobbies probably take advantage of the drought-busting rains to feed on the subsequent flush of flying termites and locusts.
Mum’s the word
Hobbies always use the stick nests of other species, Crows nests are favoured but the nests of Sparrowhawk, Buzzard and Grey Heron have also been used. Three eggs is the norm, however, occasionally two and sometimes four eggs are laid. Incubation lasts for 28-31 days and is carried out almost entirely by the female. Once hatched, the young are in the nest for another 28-34 days and become independent another 30-40 days after fledging.
The hobby is superficially similar in appearance to the larger Peregrine, in that they both share a dark hood and white cheek patch. However, the Hobby is the only falcon that breeds in Britain to have a red under-tail coverts and ‘trousers’. For more information see the BTO Hobby and Kestrel ID video.
What we can learn from 25 years of watching gardens
Exploring the value of a complete quarter-century of weekly garden bird observations from BTO's Garden BirdWatch covering the length and breadth of the country.