And now, I feel, inexplicably, that I have let them down, by not being there to see them off on their long-haul flight to Africa. I wonder how they will find the way? Probably by a mixture of visual and olfactory cues, as well as sun, magnetic and star compasses, although that answer hardly explains the phenomenon adequately. There is still so much that we don’t know about these most familiar of birds. Almost incredibly, we still know hardly anything about where they overwinter in Africa and what they do when they get there. Of 250 000 house martins ringed in Britain and Ireland, only 1, singular bird has ever been recovered from sub-Saharan Africa.
Over the past eight years, I have moved house eight times, but at last I feel settled. Perhaps rather ironically, as house martins are the ultimate nomads, I will forever associate the presence of these birds with the feeling of being at home. Next spring, I will have my fingers crossed for good weather and keep my eye on the sky, hoping for the house martins’ safe return.
Now you do it
The BTO runs a house martin survey. Find out more and join in here.
There are a few simple things that can be done to encourage house martins to nest near you:
Never disturb house martin nests. If you leave them where they have been built, they are likely to be reused the following year, or attract house martins to build their own nests nearby.
Create a pond with muddy banks, or simply a muddy puddle, so that they have something to build their nests from.
There is some evidence that putting up artificial nests helps to attract house martins. They can be bought in several different places, for example from the RSPB shop.
All nesting birds are legally protected, so it is illegal to damage or destroy the eggs or young, or destroy or damage a nest whilst it is being used.