Feb 23, 2010

Bird of the Week: the Australian Hobby has lunch on the wing

Last Friday I packed up the Troopie and headed north-west for a few hours to a gorge that I've camped at a few times in the past. At this time of year there are quite a few waterholes scattered throughout the ranges that this gorge cuts through. Right now the waterhole near the mouth of the gorge is full and fresh, later in the year the waterhole will be the last "free" water in the area.

Bob Gosford — Likes birds and people, not necessarily in that order.

Bob Gosford

Likes birds and people, not necessarily in that order.

I’ve been living in Alice Springs for a few months now and miss my daily walks through the bush at Yuendumu to walk the dogs and keep an eye on the birds that live in and wander through that corner of the Tanami Desert. So I try to get back out bush when I can to catch up with the country and the birds. And right now is a particularly good time for birds because we’ve had some – but not enough – of our summer rains.

Australian Hobby - gliding on closing wings
Australian Hobby on closing wings and a fistful of food

So last Friday I packed up the Troopie and headed north-west for a few hours to a gorge that I’ve camped at a few times in the past. You can see one of my reports of the bird life at this gorge here. At this time of year there are quite a few waterholes scattered throughout the ranges that this gorge cuts through. Right now the waterhole near the mouth of the gorge is full and fresh, later in the year the waterhole will be the last “free” water in the area. For much of the year this waterhole is an essential resource for the many granivores – the small doves, finches and parrots – that need to access water several times a day to survive.

And where you have a steady flow of small birds to and from a reliable waterhole you will also find the birds that kill and eat them. Which is one of the reasons that I keep coming back to this place – to see the wonderful variety of raptors – the birds that eat other birds – that forage for prey around the gorge and the ranges.

Here are a few of the birds I caught up with over the weekend.

Australian Hobby, Falco longipennis with lunch on the fly
Australian Hobby, Falco longipennis with lunch on the fly

This Australian Hobby turned up late in the morning with an unidentified small bird a large grasshopper clutched firmly in it’s talons and proceeded to fly around above me for about five minutes, all the while keeping an eye out for other raptors that would try to steal it’s feed – and tearing strips off its tender prey.

Australian Hobby eats lunch
Australian Hobby eats lunch

As I’ve reported in my previous post this gorge is a favourite hunting ground for the Peregrine Falcons, the larger cousin of the Hobby pictured here. While I didn’t manage to catch any Peregrines with my camera on this visit, one evening while I was preparing my dinner a Peregrine flew through my camp at furious speed and about four feet off the ground in hot pursuit of some hapless small bird. I didn’t see if the Peregrine made the kill but it did fly back over my camp and had a close look at what I was up to before disappearing into the gloaming.

A pair of Brown Falcons appear to have taken up residence in and around the gorge and on several occasions I saw fascinating interactions between the Brown Falcons and other raptors, with the Falcons attacking one of a pair of Brown Goshawks that deigned to hunt in their claimed territory and in turn being attacked by the Goshawks, who were not shy of their own aerial interactions.

Brown Goshawk harassing a Brown Falcon
Brown Goshawk harassing a Brown Falcon
and the Brown Falcon gets it's own back
...and the Brown Falcon gets it's own back

Brown Goshawks at play?
Brown Goshawks at play?

Other raptors that I saw over the course of the weekend included a single Wedge-tailed Eagle that glided past with unrivalled authority late one afternoon, a Black Falcon and several of what are my most favourite Australian bird of prey, the Spotted Harrier. Here are a few more pictures.

Brown Goshawk gliding overhead
Brown Goshawk gliding overhead

Brown Falcon
Brown Falcon in flight

And here, in part for dramatic effect but also to perhaps prompt some thought about keeping a good lookout for birds of prey on our roadsides, is a Brown Falcon in deathly repose after being hit by a car. I found this bird on the side of the road as I drove out for the weekend.

Brown Falcon roadkill
Brown Falcon roadkill

And of course there was a wide variety of non-raptorial species in and around this valuable resource. This is one of a pair of Pallid Cuckoos that called incessantly all weekend – from first to last light.

Pallid Cuckoo
Pallid Cuckoo

Brown Falcon on a watchful perch
Brown Falcon on a watchful perch

Major Mitchell's cockatoo
Major Mitchell's cockatoo

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10 thoughts on “Bird of the Week: the Australian Hobby has lunch on the wing

  1. Bird of the week: Australian Hobby, Numbulwar NT | The Northern Myth

    […] Falco longipennis, is one of my favourite raptors. I’ve written before of their exploits here and […]

  2. Elan

    Alright!, alright! I KNOW I’m a stroppy sod!

    Got to leg it now, but I shall look at your link, me bein’ a gourmet an’ all!

    And Bob, I shall be interested to read your first link, (both sound good to me)!


  3. Bob Gosford

    Elan – steady on – just the most gentle of digs – and trying to establish what species you actually had there…

    On the other hand I share your hatred of cats (see earlier posts on dead feral cats on this blog here:

    Also have a look at this report on further creative uses for ferals from Alice Springs, including feral cats, here:

    And for some international inspiration, and more recipes:

    So many cats, so few recipes…

  4. Elan

    Are you having a shot at me? You are aren’t you?, hence the recipe, which btw looks good!

    They ARE what I know as Crested Turtle Doves, (I’ve read your link). I don’t feed them. I DO put water down for ALL the birds that come into the garden.

    My two have never caused an infestation of CTD’s to descend upon me. If they had, I would think twice.

    (I used to shoot wood pigeons with my father years ago-they are good tucker. So I have no problem with pigeons as a food source).

    5 years ago when Daisy and Charlie (yes I KNOW it’s a bit twee-but I don’t give a rat’s),-I destroyed the first nest because I did not want pigeons! They promptly built another one a few inches away, and started to nest.

    I again prodded at the nest, and the bird flew away. What I didn’t know was that an egg had hatched. I only realised when I saw a wing hanging out of the nest. The baby had feathers and had clearly starved to death, it was intact, but had ‘caved in’.

    I felt bloody wretched at my timing. I buried the little fella and put a cross there to assuage my conscience-and I’m not a Christian!

    I never touched their nest again-and I never will.

    You have a different life, and a different ethic-I take the point you have made. This urban dweller and her pests must be a bit of an irritation,-but we all have our moral compass.

    When you can put up a recipe for a free roaming cat casserole, you will get my attention.

    My two doves HAVE of course bred copiously, but they have never established a colony.
    Free roaming domestic cats (ferals are easy to deal with), are sacred cows in Australia,-and destructive as buggery in the urban areas.

    I’ll concentrate on trying to do something about them thanks, and you can concentrate on what causes damage in your arena.

    Fair enough?

  5. Bob Gosford

    Thanks to Richard Noske who pointed out to me – via the NTBirds group – that the prey in the fist of the Australian Hobby above is more likely to be a large grasshopper than a small bird.

    Richard said “I suspect that the ‘bird’ being eaten by the flying Hobby is actually a large grasshopper. It has a stiff, elongated, exoskeleton-like body with large hind limbs (a bird’s body would be limp and show feathers), and the hobby actually has a structure like an insect leg in its mouth.”

    I stand gratefully corrected!

  6. Bob Gosford

    Elan – what kind of Doves are they? Hopefully not Spotted Turtle Doves? See:

    We catch and eat them in Alice Springs – see the link to Ken Johnson’s recipe for STD and Quandong Glaze here:

  7. Bob Gosford

    Cromm – thanks for a great story and I’ll be out there in a few weeks! Speaking of Hobby’s and their amazing flight capabilities, did you ever get to see the Hobby that they flew at the Alice Springs Desert Park?
    Thanks for the info and I’ll make contact to arrange a visit!

  8. Cromm

    Gday bob.
    Mate if you are ever down my way id be glad to show you our resident pair of hobbys here at Yulara..
    I have lived in Yulara for just over forteen years work out here now as info ranger for the park but before that nine years as a resort gardener.
    Every year usaly after the big rains in Feb if we are lucky to get rain,there always a mass influx of budiges which seems to be the trigger here for the hobbys to start breeding. They nest at the oval which in effect is very simaular to a dry waterhole. large green oval surrounded by river reds and white gums.
    Hobbys use a old maggpie nest and so far have succsefuly raised two healthy brood per season over the last six years out of ten as i said before no rain no budgies no breeding hobbys.
    They wouls have to be one of the most amazing flight capabiltys for any austrailan raptor.
    Yes i agree Pregrianes are fast and can turn tight but the experince i had with a male hot on the tail of a budgie simply left me breathless.
    picture A big shed with two company buses parked insidefor maintance one entry was open and the other end was closed with a slight gapp of just under an inch.
    Now i kid you not as i was standing at the open end of the shed talking with the mercanic about a meter apart. We had a single budgie wing it past us at 1000 miles an hour at face level you could feel its fear, seconds later at the same hieght a male hobby came straight through with his main flight feather just clipping the end of my nose. both budgie and hobby flew straight past us ,dashing under the bus and doing a complete roll over the top back down past the back tie and then turning vertical and both shooting through the crack of the other door…
    Both of us stood there gobb smacked we measured the crack in the door and it was exactly 6cm and the distance from the back wheel of the bus to the gapp was just over 2 meters .
    which means as this hobby came out of his backward roll up over and under the bus he piveted 90 degrees and turned himself sideways to make it through the gapp all in under 4 seconds of entering the shed.

    This i one of many storys i can share with you ..all the best CROMM

  9. Elan

    I have a dove family in my garden. They behave quite differently to pigeons,-this mum and dad (Daisy and Charlie!), have been here for five years now-in that time they have sired 14 clutches!!

    1, 2, 3, 3,-5 this year! They are STILL nesting. ,-it is comical to see Charlie who has the day shift, and Daisy the night shift, rising higher and higher out of the nest, as the bubs hatch and get bigger. The latest babies were peeking at me from the nest this morning- (always the same nest btw).

    They love a shower when the weather is hot! I give them a misting, and they seem to love it. Today is the first day mum and dad left them on their own, but both were close by! Doves are so family orientated. They partner for life unless one dies, and will live for 3 to 5 years in the wild.

    I’m hoping that their feeling of safety here, will give me another couple of years,-I can’t shake the feeling that they are trying to breed while they still have time left. It is extraordinary that they are STILL nesting.

    I will miss them terribly. They have become part of my environment here-they are company, and I talk to them all the time.
    I can prune about a foot from the nest, and they stay where they are. They are used to me, and I am used to them!

    It stands to obvious reason Bob that I love your photies!! You have some beautiful shots of those little beauties!

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