Quick facts

Common names: house martin, common house martin, northern house martin

Scientific name: Delichon urbica

Family: Hirundinidae (swallows and martins)

Habitat: open farmland, open water

Diet: flying insects, aphids

Predators: hobby and other birds of prey

Origin: native

What do house martins look like?

The house martin has glossy, dark-blue upper-parts, with a bright white throat and under-parts. It has a forked tail, a white rump and measures around 12cm in length.

Not to be confused with: swallows, which have much longer tail streamers and a red throat.

Credit: Our Wild Life Photography / Alamy Stock Photo

What do house martins eat?

House martins feed on flying insects and aphids, which they catch in flight. They spend much of their time on the wing collecting prey, and feed at a higher altitude than swallows.

Did you know?

House martins aren’t particularly faithful birds – a large number of nests contain chicks by different fathers!

How do house martins breed?

Breeding house martins arrive in the UK in April and May, with the breeding season taking place from May to August. Traditionally, they would nest on cliff faces. However, now they are mostly associated with manmade structures. They build nests out of mud, gathering it up from ponds and streams. Nests are usually built on top of eaves or under gables on houses, hence the bird’s name. House martins nest in colonies, usually with around five nests.

The female lays up to five white eggs, which hatch after about a fortnight. The chicks are usually ready to fledge after around 22–23 days. A second brood is usually raised each year.

Credit: Ffaber53 / Alamy Stock Photo

Do house martins migrate?

House martins arrive in the UK in April and May to spend the warmer months here, before migrating south in September and October. 

Did you know?

These birds weigh no more than an AA battery.

Where do house martins live?

House martins favour open country and farmland, usually near water, where they can often be seen feeding. They are found throughout the UK, although less common in northern England and Scotland.

Credit: Mike Lane / Alamy Stock Photo

Signs and spotting tips

These birds come to the UK to breed during the warmer months, usually from April to early October, so this is the time to see them. Look out for their mud nests on the sides of buildings or see if you can spot them soaring over open water in search of a bite to eat.

House martin song

Audio: Craig Brookes / xeno-canto.org

Threats and conservation

There has been a significant drop in house-martin numbers since 1970, and they are currently an amber species of conservation concern. As these birds rely on wet weather to build their nests, and warm weather to gather food, dramatic changes in the weather (such as extreme dry or cold periods) can have a negative effect on their numbers.

Habitat loss is another possible reason for their decline, as increasingly the old buildings they nest in are being converted and developed, limiting possible breeding sites.

Did you know?

Nests can take as long as 10 days to build; however, these birds are known to reuse old nests, often returning to the same nest they used the year before.