It's time, once again, to take a look at some of the collective nouns associated with wildlife, and this week I'm turning the focus on falcons, and more specifically hobbies.
There are four species of falcon that breed in the UK: peregrine, kestrel, hobby and merlin. A fifth, the red-footed falcon, is a regular but scarce summer migrant, while gyr falcon and Eleonora's falcon are very rare visitors.
Of all of these, only the hobby is regularly seen in flocks larger than a family party, yet there isn't a collective noun associated specifically with hobby. This seems strange, given that we regularly see flocks of up to 20 hobbies in late spring, and again in late summer. At RSPB Lakenheath Fen in west Suffolk, or RSPB Ham Wall in Somerset these flocks can exceed 50 birds. In contrast, it's rare to see more than three or four kestrels or peregrines together, and merlins are almost always seen singly.
So, in the absence of a collective noun for hobby, let's look, instead, at the terms used for falcons in general. I have found three. Perhaps the most obvious of these is a soar of falcons, because that is exactly what most falcons do a lot of. Even kestrels, that are best known for their ability to hover, will frequently soar on thermals, while peregrines soar high before stooping after a hapless pigeon or duck. Hobbies soar above the reedbeds and woodland edges, plucking dragonflies, damselflies or St Mark's flies from the air and eating them on the wing.
Hobby catching a dragonfly (photo by Nigel Smith)
A tower of falcons is also very applicable to hobbies, and to birds of prey in general, especially when they have soared high on thermal. Then, they will often soar at different altitudes, almost like different tiers of a tower block.
The third term, which is the one that I'm most familiar with is a cast of falcons. I know this term primarily as the title of one of Steve Burrows' birder murder mysteries. However, I don't really know where the term actually comes from, although my guess is that it can be traced back to falconry.
Going back to hobbies, I wonder if anyone has any good suggestions for a collective noun for them. All suggestions welcome
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