MYSTERY OF THE
House Martin numbers in England are declining, but in Northern Ireland and
ATWO-YEAR MONITORING study recording the nesting activity of House Martins hopes to understand why parts of the UK are seeing a rapid decline in their numbers. Scientists at The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) called on members of the public earlier this year to choose nesting sites to monitor and are collating findings to produce a population estimate for the species. House Martins are, of course, summer visitors to the UK and build a circular nest under the eaves of houses and other buildings, using, it is estimated, a thousand beakfuls of mud! It is ‘Amber-listed’ in the list of Birds of Conservation Concern. After we moved house, recently, it was House Martins above all others that I missed most from our former location. They used to return to their nests under the eaves of our neighbour’s house, as they had been doing for the last seven years that I was monitoring them, and doubtless for the 130 or so years before that, since the house was built around 1875. The martins returned with amazing regularity, always arriving some time during the second week of April, and with unerring accuracy, homing in on the same nest sites or at least the same nesting area. They are my favourite summer visitors and their pleasant ‘chirrups’ as they darted across the azure air space above our garden was guaranteed to lift my spirits. They always seem to be cheerful – you can’t be downcast when the martins are about. For several years, two or three pairs took up residence in nests, which had remained pretty well intact from year to year. One was tucked right up under the gable end of the south-facing wall of the property, and I imagine this was the penthouse suite, the ‘des res’ of the group. Another two were under the eaves running along the eastern wall. This was not only a much colder place, but as the wall was located only some nine or 10 feet from our property, it made a direct approach into the nest much more of a challenge. The summer before we left, a pair set about restoring the very dilapidated remains of an old nest that was situated at the northern corner of this east flank wall, a much more exposed and even colder spot. I suspect that this was a late returning pair or maybe first-time breeders who had to settle for a property lower down the housing ladder. Over the next few years, they would doubtless rise gradually up the social scale and eventually acquire a property in the prime location. This pair spent several weeks collecting mud to rebuild the structure. Needless to say they were later than the other pairs in laying their eggs and the young fledged between 18 and 25 August, still hawking the skies above our house well into September.