Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Preserving our Hobby

Conservation in Cuddesdon. Who would have thought it? Back in April I was contacted by Barry Hudson, then chairperson of the Oxford Ornithological Society and one of the nicest men you may meet. He was aware of the pair of Hobbies that have bred locally and asked if I would be interested in helping put up an artifical nest platform.  I jumped at the chance, and after an early Spring visit to the nest site with Barry and Pat Wixey, we arranged that Andy, a member of the local raptor study group, would come around and position the artifical nest. 

The timing was perfect, for the old crow's nest that the Hobbies have bred in for at least the last three years was blown down in the gales at the beginning of this year. The nest platform is essentially a converted hanging basket:

In late April Andy climbed the nest tree and I guided him to where I thought the old nest had been. He secured the nest platform and within two weeks the Hobbies were back and immediately took up residence in their new, secure home. By late July three chicks were developing nicely. Andy returned to ring the chicks are collect discarded prey items for study. He took this fantastic picture of the chicks in the nest:

I have to admit to having some personal doubts about the effectiveness of ringing birds in these times of developing technologies such as satellite transmitters. According to the Migration Atlas, published by the BTO, there have been 1,179 Hobbies ringed in the UK, 95% of these ringed in the nest. Only 37 recoveries have been made of British ringed birds, a recovery rate of 3.2%. Only 8 of these were abroad, none further south than France. Even in the European context, there have been no ringing recoveries south of the Sahara. Ringing has failed to establish the wintering quarters of Hobbies in Africa. 

This situation is similar to our knowledge of Eleonora's Falcons. These migratory falcons breed on Mediterranean islands and migrate to Madagascar each winter, but the migration route was unknown. Satellite transmitters were then attached to birds and suddenly we discover the exact migration route and wintering areas, which surprisingly was not around the coast of Africa at all:

Full details here:
Perhaps it is time for a similar study to be carried out on UK Hobbies?  However, it was fabulous to see the Hobby chicks up close, ringing went smoothly and by mid-August all three young had fledged:

They then spent a month or so in the local fields and skies, developing their hunting skills and feasting on invertebrates in freshly ploughed fields. Here is one of the young birds, complete with ring, photographed in mid August:

By now they are (hopefully) somewhere south of the Sahara, feeding in African skies. A huge thank you to Barry Hudson, Pat Wixey and Andy for introducing wildlife conservation into Cuddesdon. We look forward to the return of these fabulous falcons next spring. 


  1. Tom failed to mention the biscuits, cake and cups of tea generously offered and taken by myself and Pat and served up by Toms gorgeous Wife and lovely lively daughter. I am so pleased you were able to report a successful outcome and as Hobby's are site loyal they should be back again next year. I cannot remember the landowners name but I did send him the 2009 Annual Report , so I hope he appreciated it.
    Marvellous photos - looking forward to seeing you soon. Although just one small correction I am the Secretary of the OOS not Chairman (Alan Larkman) Because of the constant threats to so much of our counties wildlife I intend to resign as Secretary and stand for the post of Conservation Officer at next Mays AGM.

  2. Inspirational work. Wonderful to see the fully fledged young birds.