The house martin is easily distinguished by its pure white rump that contrasts sharply with its otherwise black upperparts, while the crown, mantle and scapulars are glossed blue. Underparts are white. In profile, the bird reveals descending blue, black and white stripes on its head, and it has a very wide mouth. The house martin has long, pointed wings, and a short, black tail that is moderately forked although noticeable, even if it does lack the flamboyant tail streamers of the swallow. It can also be distinguished by its white-feathered feet, usually seen gripping onto a telephone wire where they like to group, especially after the young fledge. The juvenile is like the adult but with hardly any blue gloss on plumage. The young are also less contrasted and more brownish below. Sexes are similar.
The house martin has small feet with very sharp claws. These are well adapted for clinging onto rough vertical surfaces, allowing the bird access to its nesting site.
House martins are noisy, especially in their colonies where they chatter incessantly. Their song is an unstructured series of chirps with an overall sweet impression.
House Martin Song
David Darrell-Lambert, XC377793. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/377793.
The house martin hunts insects at all levels, but often high in the air. It will feed on flying insects including mosquitos and even large butterflies.
The house martin is a summer visitor to the UK. They are generally widespread, although scarce in the far north of Scotland. They are commonly found in urban areas, even in cities. In more natural surroundings, they can be seen searching out insects in the air over agriculture, open water and near woodland.
The house martin’s large white rump patch is striking even at distance. It spends a lot of time on the wing, and will spiral high in the sky to catch insects. Its flight is not so swift as the barn swallow’s, and is more fluttery with frequent and at times long glides on stiff wing. It will often fly in gentle curves at low speeds. Aerial exercises are intensified during the run up to their autumn migration. House martins can also be seen on the ground when collecting mud for their nest, usually near pools of water.
House Martins breed commonly and colonial lay in villages, farms, towns. They have been associated with humans for a long time, and are generally accepting of our presence. They have even built nests under motorway bridges and on ferries. Those that like a quieter environment still use traditional sites such as cliff faces. Pairs will work together to build their mud nest, usually attached to the side of a building. Parents share young raising duties. During nest building, disputes can occur through the theft of mud and building materials. Females lay 4-5 eggs and incubate them for a period of 13-15 days. They can raise 2-3 broods a year.
House Martin Nest
House martins can live for up to 14 years, but the average lifespan is around 2 years.
The house martin is a summer visitor to the UK, arriving in April and leaving by the end of October, when they will travel to their winter sites in Africa.
The UK has 510,000 house martin pairs. Their UK conservation status is amber.
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