What is your hobby?
I’ve just returned from my daily walk.
Actually, “daily” is a bit of a misnomer. I should be going for a daily walk for the good of my health. Too often it is more like a weekly walk, though I have been good over the last week or so, especially during our short holiday in Robe last week. More of that in another post.
As I was approaching home I saw an Australian Hobby sitting quietly on a dead branch of a mallee tree on the roadside. It seemed to be posing just for me, and stayed there as I walked by. It probably knew instinctively that I’d left the camera home!
I’ve always puzzled over the name “hobby” for this species. An alternative name, “Little Falcon” seems so much more apt. Can any of my readers throw any light on why or how the “hobby” part of the name came into being?
Sadly – I do not yet have a photo of this species to share with you.
UPDATE: There have been many comments left below in the comments section about this topic. Some of the comments were posted to the Birding Aus forum.
It also had another name in Central Queenslsnd, ‘Duck hawke’.
Hi there Stuart – thanks for the comment. “Duck hawke” is even more bizarre. Do they hunt ducks? Surely their size would be a handicap?
According to my dictionary the word hobby refers to any of several small Old World Falcons especially the European Falco subbuteo, formerly used in falconry. Comes from Old French hobet, derived from hobe meaning falcon. Probably related to Middle Dutch hobbelen meaning to roll, turn.
It goes back to falconry, done with Peregrine Falcons and noblemen. When nobelwomen wanted to try they were not allowed to use Peregrines and had to use a smaller falcon. Because women were thought to be inferior by some men then what ever they did was thought to be only a “hobby”.
Stuart followed up his initial comment via email. He said:
I guess their speed allows them to hit quite hard. I must say I’ve not seen one attacking a duck. Mostly they seem to catch dragonflies. Australian Dragonflies are said to be the fastest in the World at 58kph.
Thanks for your comments Andrew. I usually do my research before going into print, but slipped up on that step this time. My dictionaries throw no light on the subject so thanks for your input.
Thanks also Chris for your contribution.
Phillip sent me these comments via email:
Hobby is for the European Hobby, which our species resembles and several other small falcons. “Little Falcon” is not terribly helpful as there are several small falcons. Hobby is a term from falconry, where traditionally it was a lady’s bird. A hobby as in that it is small, maybe considered elegant and attractive but it does not catch large and useful prey, as distinct from goshawks, peregrines, eagles, etc. Hence for fun or frivolity, a hobby, rather than serious sport or culinary hunting.
I actually often still use the name Little Falcon, despite the bird being know as Australian Hobby for most of my life. This stems from when I birded with my dad as a kid.
Similarly I also often use Little Grebe, Spur-winged Plover etc, which annoys or confuses some of my birding friends (many of who don’t know the previous names). For example I’ll say “There’s a Little Falcon”, and they’ll respond “Yes, it is small, therefore it must be a Australian Hobby.”
Cheer, Tim Dolby
Thanks for your comments Tim.
I, too, often catch myself using some of the old names. I found myself in serious trouble on Birding Aus a few years ago for using the name Little Grebe. (Don’t you just love those people who instantly jump down your throat at the smallest mistake – I was just using the name I had learned as a beginner and which still appears in some of the older field guides.)
From time to time I still catch myself using Spur-Winged Plover and not Masked Lapwing.
More amusing was a time many years ago when in the company of a very prominent ornithologist I said, “Look – there’s a little Thornbill.” I wondered why he got all excited – I was merely referring to its size, not its species name.
You live and learn.
Anthea posted these comments on the Birding-Aus forum:
The word ‘Hobby’, meaning a pastime or enthusiasm, derives from the obsolete sense of a small road-horse – related to the morris-dancer’s and the child’s hobby-horse. In “Black Beauty” the kindly Squire, after reproving a neighbour for his treatment of carriage-horses, says “Now I’ve given my hobby a good trot-out; won’t you try him?”, meaning “give my system a go”.
Apparently the bird has been called ‘hobby’ since the 1500s. The French word for the bird, hobelar or hobereau, has at times been connected to a similar obsolete word ‘hober’ meaning to hover, but I believe this is now discounted. No, I have just checked W.B. Lockwoods’s ‘Dictionary of British Bird Names’ (1993), who says ‘hober’ means to jump about, referring to the bird’s well-known agility. A book on falconry (can’t recall title or author) said that Hobbies offer fine sport if flown at Skylarks….if you like that sort of thing.. Certainly the Australian Hobby is a very fine dashing raptor and always worth watching. Pity we never see them around Heidelberg any more these days.
John posted this comment on the Birding Aus forum:
“Hobereau” was, and is, the French for a squire, as in a junior knight. I assume the French use of it for the bird is short for “the falcon suitable for a squire” from the days when the type of falcon you could practise falconry with depended on your social status.
Michael made these comments on the subject on the Birding Aus forum
A great hobby-horse of mine is the re-naming of “Jabiru”, (or even Australian Jabiru,) to “Black-necked Stork”. How prosaic can a name like Black-necked Stork be for such a magnificent beast, how unimaginative and boring for such a beautiful bird.(Jabiru is a Portugese name for stork, and given to a South American species, but only pedantry can excuse not using the name in Australia and Asia, where the species do not overlap).
There are several examples of different birds in foreign lands having the same name. Black-shouldered Kite is one, the African/Eurasian is similar with a different scientific name, but both are called “Black-shouldered Kite”, please contribute any others.