July is a time when many small birds have just fledged young, which are making their way in the world with varying degrees of success. We’ve all seen them, perching uncertainly on lawns or fences, with dishevelled plumage and something of a confused look.
Cruel though it may be, some predators take advantage of the large number of learner-fliers about, knowing that there is a rich source of food to feed their own young. Thus the hobby, as one example, lays its eggs unusually late (June) and, by the time these hatch, the parents have an array of young birds with limited flying ability and experience available to them.
It is a terrible mismatch, for the hobby is a supreme flier. With its slim body and sickle-shaped, sharply pointed wings, it is both fast and exceptionally manoeuvrable. It is the only predator that can regularly catch swifts in flight, and you can sometimes see it swooping over ponds and bogs snatching dragonflies. In the late summer, many of its victims are young swallows, larks and pipits, but to be honest, any small bird will do.
Image: hobby (Falco subbuteo) perched on stump, Wales – Getty/Mike Powles