Many of you will have seen house martins dashing about in the skies above you the last couple of months. Here RSPB Scotland’s Jess Barrett brings you five facts you need to know about these summer migrants.
Five facts you need to know about house martins
1. House martins have a white rump
With swifts, swallows, sand martins and house martins all back in Scotland over the summer months it can be difficult to tell them apart. One of the easiest ways to identify a house martin is by their white rump which others do not have. They also have a pure white belly, unlike sand martins which have a band of colour across their breast area. House martin tail feathers are much shorter than the streamers swallows have, and they are smaller than swifts.
2. They can have up to three broods a year
House martins can have up to three broods a year. Both parent birds will build the nest of mud. They create a cup shaped nest by gathering mud in their beaks from the edges of pools or puddles. The nests tend to be built in the eaves of buildings so you can often see them dashing back and forth to them to feed their young.
Nesting house martins even get a mention in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, said to be seen at Cawdor Castle. However, traditionally the nests would have been built on cliff faces both inland and by the sea and some can still be found here.
3. They are sociable birds
House martins are sociable birds – they tend to nest in small colonies so if you spot one nest the chances are there will be others close by. They also feed and migrate together. Keep an eye out for large groups of them from August. They are known to gather in big numbers just before they leave Scotland heading south for the winter months. Come the end of October they will all have left for another year.
4. They are rarely on the ground
House martins spend much of their time on the wing. One of the few times you may spot one on the ground is when it is gathering mud for its nest. As their main source of food is flying insects it makes perfect sense for these birds to be airborne for much of the time. However, they do also enjoy a perch and can be seen on wires and rooftops, particularly once their young have fledged. Have you seen any taking a seat?
5. Where they winter is a mystery
While we know that house martins head to Africa during our winter months it’s still not clear where they spend this time as their main wintering grounds on this continent are uncertain. What we do know is that they return to Scotland in April and May and many of us love seeing them darting about in the skies above us!