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House martin (Delichon urbica)

Smaller than a swallow, the house martin nests under the eaves of buildings, or tucked under ledges or tiled roofs.

House martin is a migratory passerine bird which breeds in Europe, north Africa and temperate Asia. Each spring the arrival of the house martin is eagerly anticipated. 

Common name: house martin, common house martin, northern house martin

Scientific name: Delichon urbica

Family: Hirundinidae

Appearance

Body: smaller than swallows with shorter tail forks and a white rump. The white breast is dusky in the juvenile.

Not to be confused with

Swifts, swallows and sand martins are other summer visitors which can be easily confused with house martins.

Where to spot

Under the eaves of a building, or tucked under a ledge or a tiled roof. Often seen feeding over water or in open farmland with swallows.

Found throughout the UK, although less common in northern England and Scotland.

The house martin is a summer visitor from late April and most depart from the UK by October.

When to spot

They come to the UK to breed during the warmer months. Look out for them overhead from April. They return to their traditional nest sites to rear their young and remain here until September and October before migrating south.

Feeding

House martins feed on insects which are caught in the air. They spend much of their time on the wing collecting prey, and feed at a higher altitude than swallows.

Breeding

The female lays up to five white eggs in a clutch. Originally nesting on cliff faces, they are now mostly associated with man and their mud nests can be found on all kinds of buildings, beneath bridges and even on street lamps.

Facts

  • They spend their winters in Africa and on arrival in the UK in spring will often feed over wetlands for a time before returning to their traditional nest sites.
  • Song, often delivered from telephone lines, is a babbling twitter.
  • It is hunted by the Eurasian hobby (Falco subbuteo).
  • There are three species in the genus Delichon. The other two are both found in eastern and southern Asia.

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