Eurasian Hobby, Falco subbuteo

Eurasian Hobby

Eurasian Hobby, Kazakhstan, May 2009, © Jochen Fünfstück

Names

English: Eurasian Hobby, Hobby
Scientific: Falco subbuteo
German: Baumfalke
Spanish: Alcotán europeo
French: Faucon hobereau

Taxonomy and Subspecies

Currently 2 subspecies recognized. F. s. streichi occurs in southern and eastern China and maybe also in northern Indochina and eastern Myanmar. F. s. subbuteo occurs over the rest of the species's range including Europe [GRIN 2010].
The closest relative in Europe are the Eleonora's Falcon and the Red-footed Falcon. Other close relatives are the Sooty Falcon F. concolor, Australian Hobby F. longipennis, African Hobby F. cuvierii, Orange-breasted Falcon F. deiroleucus, and the Amur Falcon F. amurensis.

Size

Length: 29-36 cm
Wingspan: 74-84 cm
Weight: 175-285 g

Maximum Age

15 years in the wild. [Mebs & Schmidt 2006]

Habitat

Prefers lowlands over mountainous areas [Mebs & Schmidt 2006].
Hobbies hunt in open areas. Nests are in small group of trees, in forests and also on power poles. It is important that there are enough nests from other species like crows available as the Hobby - like all falcons - does not build a nest of it's own. Enough food (birds, large insects) is also important.
Hobbies are often found near water.

Distribution

Found over most of Europa. Not found in Iceland, Ireland and northern Scandinavia and Russia. From Europa eastwards to the Pacific Ocean and northern Japan.

Migration

The Eurasian Hobby is a complete migrant who leaves Europe mostly in August and September but some as late as October. They spend the winter in Africa south of the Sahara and return to Europe in April and May.
For a long time, not much was known about the exact migration routes and movements during the time in Africa. Of 5,700 birds ringed, only two were recovered in Africa south of the Sahara [MEYBURG, B.-U., C. MEYBURG, P.HOWEY & K.D.FIUCZYNSKI 2011].
With the latest satellite transmitter being as light as 5 grams, it was possible to use them to track small raptors like Hobbies. In August 2008, a female Hobby was fitted with such a transmitter for the first time.
The female left it's German breeding territory (near Berlin) by the end of August. It flew via Italy and across the Mediterranean Sea into North Africa. The falcon needed 49 days to reach it's main wintering area in southern Angola. After more than two months of staying in southern Angola, it made short trip to central Zimbabwe but returned to southern Angola. The distance migrated from Germany to Zimbabwe was more than 10,000 km. It arrived back in Germany in May 2009.
On average the Hobby migrated 174km per day but with a peak of up to 580 km a day when flying over the West African rain forests. Apparently this is not suitable habitat for the hobby.
For more information about this female and it's movements, see [MEYBURG, B.-U., C. MEYBURG, P.HOWEY & K.D.FIUCZYNSKI 2011].
Those information are not only very interesting but also of great value for conservation. Only when we know as much details as possible about the Hobby can we best protect this amazing little falcon. Further studies will for sure bring even more details about it's movements and survival rates during migration and in it's wintering area.

Breeding and Reproduction

Female Hobbies normally able to breed with 1 or 2 years, sometimes with 3 years. Males do not breed before two years old [Mebs & Schmidt 2006].
2 - 4 four eggs are laid by the female with 3 eggs being the most common clutch size [Chapman 1999]. Incubation is between 28 and 31 days and the young stay in the nest for 28 - 34 days.
The male Hobby delivers food to the fledged falcons until shortly before they leave for migration [Mebs & Schmidt 2006].

Food and hunting

The most important prey are birds and insects. During the breeding season, birds are clearly dominant as prey. Common prey species include birds like Skylark, Starlings, House and Tree Sparrows and other small songbirds. Hobbies are capable of catching very fast birds like Swallows, Martins and even Swifts. In a study in the Po Valley in Italy, 53% (!!) of all birds caught were Common Swifts [Mebs & Schmidt 2006]. The percantage of the most caught birds varies with region and availability.
Insects become important after the young have fledged [Mebs & Schmidt 2006]. During the winter in Africa, Hobbies mainly feed in insects, especially one alate termites [Mebs & Schmidt 2006, GRIN 2009].
Bats are also caught sometimes.
Hobbies are very fast and agile fliers and catch birds in flight. Not every attempt is successful, especially when Hobbies try to catch fast flying birds like swallows.
Insects are normally eaten in flight.

Population

[BirdLife International 2004] gives a European population of 71,000 - 120,000 pairs. Largest population in Russia with 30,000 - 60,000 pairs. Other countries with large populations are France (6,500 - 9,600), Belarus (2,500 - 2,700), Romania (3,200 - 4,000), UK (2,200), Ukraine (2,000 - 3,000) and Turkey with 4,000 - 8,000 pairs.
Germany has about 2,900 pairs [Mebs & Schmidt 2006].

Threats

Several threats are affecting the Eurasian Hobby. Illegal hunting during migration, for example, on Malta is still ongoing.
Habitat destruction, especially because of intensification in agriculture, has reduced prey animals like songbirds and large insects. Birds like swallows and larks are declining in many European countries due to intensified agricultural practices.
In some places a decline in crow numbers can reduce the available nests for the Hobby.
Increasing populations of the Goshawk may also have a negative effect on some Hobby populations, for example in the Netherlands, [Mebs & Schmidt 2006, GRIN 2009].
Binding twine from agricultural use, which is sometimes built into nests by crows, can kill young and even adult Hobbies when they entangle themselves in the twine [Mebs & Schmidt 2006].
The shooting into crow nests from below to kill the crows can also kill Hobbies, as it is often not possible to see what bird is breeding in the nest (nests from crows are used by several raptor species and other birds like Long-eared Owls). This practice is illegal in most countries but still occurs.

Conservation

Agricultural practices should keep the needs of wildlife in mind. Less pesticides and a more extensive farming will benefit many bird species, including the Hobby.
The illegal hunting on migration must be stopped. Crows should be fully protected and hunting and killing of crows should be illegal across Europe.
Binding twine should not be left in the field. Education of farmers is important here.
Artificial nests can help Hobbies, especially when there is a lack of nests from crows and other birds. Nests on power poles seem to be safer from Goshawks [Mebs & Schmidt 2006].

Status IUCN/BirdLife

Least Concern (LC)

Status Global Raptor Information Network

Lower risk

Interviews about the Eurasian Hobby

Interview with Klaus-Dietrich Fiuczynski about the Eurasian Hobby in Germany

References

[BirdLife International 2004] BirdLife International. 2004. Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status. BirdLife Interntional. Cambridge, UK. (Eurasian Hobby species account available at: http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/BirdsInEuropeII/BiE2004Sp3610.pdf)

[Chapman 1999] Chapman, Anthony (1999). The Hobby. Arlequin Press.

[GRIN 2010] Global Raptor Information Network. 2010. Species account: Eurasian Hobby Falco subbuteo. Downloaded from http://www.globalraptors.org on 01 Dec. 2010

[Mebs & Schmidt 2006] Mebs, Theodor & Schmidt, Daniel (2006). Die Greifvögel Europas, Nordafrikas und Vorderasiens. Kosmos Verlag.

[MEYBURG, B.-U., C. MEYBURG, P.HOWEY & K.D.FIUCZYNSKI 2011] Meyburg, B.-U., Meyburg, C., Howey, P., Fiuczynski, K.D. (2011): Two complete migration cycles for an adult Hobby tracked by satellite. British Birds 104, January 2011: 2-15.

Books

Chapman, Anthony (1999). The Hobby. Arlequin Press.

Forsman, Dick (1999). The Raptors of Europe and the Middle East A Handbook of Field Identification. Poyser

Fiuczynski, Klaus-Dietrich & Sömmer, Paul (2011). Der Baumfalke. 5th edition. Die Neue Brehm-B├╝cherei Bd. 575. Westarp.

Mebs, Theodor & Schmidt, Daniel (2006). Die Greifvögel Europas, Nordafrikas und Vorderasiens. Kosmos Verlag.

Websites

BirdLife Species Factsheet for the Eurasian Hobby

GRIN species account for the Eurasian Hobby