Australian hobby (Falco longipennis)

Also known as: little falcon, white-fronted falcon
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderFalconiformes
FamilyFalconidae
GenusFalco (1)
SizeLength: 29 - 35 cm (2) (3)
Wingspan: 66 - 87 cm (2)
Male weight: 132 - 280 g (2) (3)
Female weight: 190 - 420 g (3)
Top facts

The Australian hobby is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and is listed on Appendix II of CITES (4).

The Australian hobby (Falco longipennis) is a relatively small, slender falcon with long, narrow, pointed wings and a relatively long, square-ended tail (3). The scientific name of this species, longipennis, translates as ‘long feather’ and refers to its long wing feathers (5), which reach to the end of the tail or just beyond when the hobby is perched (3).

The adult Australian hobby is largely dark slate-grey to bluish-grey above (3) (6), sometimes tinged with brown. Its underparts vary from rich to pale reddish-brown and show variable amounts of dark streaking, with dark blotches, spots or bars on the flanks. The undersides of the wings are barred and the tips of the wings are dark, while the tail has fine but indistinct dark barring (3).

The Australian hobby has a distinctively marked head, with a black hood that extends down into short, wide ‘moustache’ marks, contrasting with the cream or buff forehead and throat. A pale half-collar extends up around the rear of the cheeks to the edges of the nape. The Australian hobby has dark brown eyes and a pale grey to yellow cere and eye ring, and its legs and feet are yellow (3).

The female Australian hobby resembles the male, but is usually slightly larger (2) (3), with browner upperparts and heavier streaking on the underparts (3). Juveniles are similar in appearance to the adults, but have browner, more rufous-tinged upperparts, richer reddish-brown underparts (2) (3), and a more buffy throat and upper breast (3). The juvenile’s underparts are usually only thinly streaked, and it has duller, paler legs and feet than the adult and a pale blue cere and eye ring (3).

Three subspecies of Australian hobby are usually recognised (3) (7), with Falco longipennis hanieli being slightly smaller and paler below than Falco longipennis longipennis, while Falco longipennis murchisonianus is paler blue-grey above with a dull blackish head, and paler reddish-brown below with less distinct markings (3). F. l murchisonianus is not always considered to be a separate subspecies (2). The Australian hobby can sometimes be confused with the peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) (3) (6), but is smaller and more lightly built, with a longer and narrower tail and wings (2) (3).

The calls of the Australian hobby include a rapid ‘kee-kee-kee’, and it also sometimes gives thin squeals, chatters and ticking sounds (3).

As its common name suggests, the Australian hobby is found across Australia, including northern Tasmania. It also occurs in New Guinea and the Lesser Sundas, from Lombok to Timor-Leste (2) (3) (5) (8). The subspecies F. l. longipennis occurs in Tasmania and Australia, with F. l. murchisonianus occurring in northern Australia, while F. l. hanieli is found in the Lesser Sunda Islands (2) (3) (5).

Although it is resident year-round across much of its range, some populations of the Australian hobby are partially migratory, with individuals from Australia sometimes wintering in New Guinea and occasionally being sighted in the Moluccas (3) (5).

The Australian hobby typically inhabits open woodland, savanna, timbered areas along watercourses, wooded farmland, and urban parks and gardens that have plenty of trees (2) (3). Although usually found near water, this species sometimes occurs in semi-desert scrub and in near-treeless plains (3). The Australian hobby has been recorded at elevations from sea level to around 2,000 metres (2) (3).

The Australian hobby mainly hunts in flight, pursuing small birds, insects and sometimes bats in the air. Smaller prey is often eaten in flight, or the hobby may take it to a high perch (3) (5). This species may also hunt from a perch or occasionally chase insects or mice on the ground, and has been known to steal food from other birds of prey (3). Pairs of Australian hobbies often hunt cooperatively, and this species may occasionally hunt at dusk or even at night, using artificial light (3).

Although usually seen alone or in breeding pairs, the Australian hobby may gather in larger numbers where prey is abundant, such as at insect swarms or bird roosts. During the breeding season, this species performs aerial displays which include noisy, high-speed chases and spectacular dives and acrobatics. The breeding season of the Australian hobby runs from August to December or January in southern and central Australia, but may start earlier in tropical areas further north (3).

The Australian hobby usually nests in a tree, using the old stick nest of another bird, such as a crow or another raptor. It has also sometimes been known to nest in a tree hollow (3). The female Australian hobby lays between two and four eggs in a clutch, with three being most common. The eggs are incubated for 28 to 35 days (3) and the young hobbies fledge at 34 to 38 days old (2) (3).

Young Australian hobbies remain dependent on the adults for up to six weeks after leaving the nest (3). This species has been recorded living for up to seven years in the wild (2).

One of the most common falcons (Falco species) in Australia (3), the Australian hobby is abundant and widespread, and is not currently considered to be at risk of extinction (8). This species’ population is believed to be increasing in Tasmania, possibly due to drought encouraging more migrant bird species to spend the winter there, providing more prey for the hobby (3).

An adaptable species, the Australian hobby commonly occurs in suburban areas (3).

The Australian hobby is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), meaning that any international trade in this species should be carefully controlled (4). No other specific conservation measures are currently known to be in place for this widespread raptor.

Find out more about the Australian hobby and its conservation:

Find out more about the birds of Barrow Island, Australia:

More information on conservation in Australia:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2012)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1994) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 2: New World Vultures to Guineafowl. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. Ferguson-Lees, J. and Christie, D.A. (2001) Raptors of the World. Helm Identification Guides, A&C Black Publishers, London.
  4. CITES (November, 2012)
    http://www.cites.org/
  5. Debus, S. (2012) Birds of Prey of Australia: A Field Guide. Second Edition. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.
  6. Moro, D. and MacAulay, I. (2010) A Guide to the Birds of Barrow Island. Chevron Australia, Perth. Available at:
    http://www.chevronaustralia.com/environment/protectingenvironment/nature-books.aspx
  7. Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS) (November, 2012)
    http://www.itis.gov/
  8. BirdLife International - Australian hobby:
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=3613