A rare European bird of prey has been found for the first time in eastern Australia – and researchers say its unprecedented journey could be the result of climate change.
- Eurasian hobby discovered in eastern Australia for the first time in history
- The little hawk, named Hubert, has a fractured wing and will soon be operated on
- Researchers say environmental factors may have influenced the bird’s journey from Europe to southeast Australia
The Eurasian hobby has only been seen in Australia five times in recorded history, with all sightings having taken place near Perth in the past five years.
Small falcons normally migrate from southern Europe to Asia and Africa, but this male, nicknamed Hubert for his “charming and calm nature”, was found wandering on foot in an enclosure in Sale, in southeast Victoria.
Wildlife Warden Linda Cunningham was the first responder to the scene.
But the experienced caregiver was puzzled as to what kind of bird she had in her hands.
“I have been at the wildlife refuge caring for birds of prey for over 25 years now,” she said.
“This one, I looked at it for quite a while, and my brain was pretty confused.”
The Eurasian hobby is similar in size to the Australian hobby – one of the country’s smallest raptors at around one foot long – but it has different markings.
Bird surgeons waiting in the wings
When an x-ray revealed that Hubert had a fractured wing, he was taken to a vet, where he is being evaluated for next surgery.
“They are planning surgery, close to the elbow joint, the chances are good that everything will be fine,” Ms Cunningham said.
It is believed that Hubert most likely suffered the injury while flying through a wire fence.
“This is called hawking – flying over the tops of the grass to disturb the insects so that they can eat them afterwards,” Ms Cunningham said.
“He could have done that and unfortunately not seen the fence.”
It is not yet known when Hubert will be released to migrate to Europe, but Ms Cunningham said his rehabilitation will take considerable time.
How did Hubert get here?
There are some possible explanations for how Hubert came to hunt bugs in the Victoria area.
Monash University ornithologist Rohan Clarke confirmed Hubert’s rarity to Ms Cunningham.
“It is possible that he ended up on the wrong flyway – rather than going south into Africa, he is a bit too east or west, depending on how you are. look, “said Dr Clarke.
Or maybe, he said, the recently declared La Niña weather system could wreak havoc on bird orientation.
But research conducted for BirdLife Australia suggests “the species is likely to be more than an accidental vagrant in Australia.”
Dr Clarke agreed that it was possible that a changing climate and increasing competition had alienated Hubert from his peers.
“We are also seeing a few species that did not exist in Australia at all before, and are now appearing regularly,” he said.
“Perhaps a Eurasian hobby in eastern Australia is sort of avant-garde, meaning Eurasian hobbies could occur moderately frequently in the summer months.