Swifts, Swallows & House Martins - I am a bit clueless

Our work

Our work
You might be surprised to read that our work is far broader than nature reserves and Big Garden Birdwatch. Read more about what else we do.

Bugs, Birds and Beasts in the East

All of our up to date fun and frolics in the East from office antics to great conservation stories and those magical connections with nature.

Swifts, Swallows & House Martins - I am a bit clueless

  • Comments 2
  • Likes

Blogger: Adam Murray, Communications Officer

I don't know about you but I have loved having our summer visitors here. As they soar overhead in the evening I wish I knew a little more about which was which – I know it shouldn’t really matter and I should be happy to just enjoy their flirtatious skirting of rooftops. There is something maybe geeky or nerdy about it, identifying something, giving it a name, putting it in its place in the world. Maybe it is just so that you can turn to that bloke at the bus stop or your nearest and dearest and confidently say “Look there, the swifts are flying high this evening” (thinking about it that sounds like some John Le Carre detective password).  So after a bit of digging in my trusty bird book (easily purchased online) and with my more birdy colleagues I came up with some simple ways of telling our usual suspects apart.

House Martin – prominent white on the belly, smallest of the three (but that is only helpful if they line up next to each other in a Red Arrows type formation)

Swallow – very defined forked tail and red on the head

Swift – dark all over, wings are long and scythe-like

So I hope that helps and watch this space for more news on these great birds...

SWALLOW. Credit: Mike Langman (rspb-images.com)

HOUSE MARTIN. Credit: Mike Langman (rspb-images.com)

SWIFT. Credit: Mike Langman (rspb-images.com)

For more information about swifts take a look at http://www.rspb.org.uk/thingstodo/surveys/swifts/


  • Thanks for the added info cjbeady - my other half is already clocking the difference so this seems to be working nicely

  • Another way of telling the difference is to look at the height they are flying:

    Swifts feed on aerial 'plankton' and are often high in the sky and Swallows swoop low over fields and watercourses preying on larger insects. House Martins will be somewhere in between.