house martin diary 2020

For the last few years, I have been documenting the success and failure of the colony I've been lucky enough to have here. It was already here when we moved in 2012, but was barely clinging on, with the one active nest. The other being predated by a GSW in the days or weeks before completion date. The other nest subsequently failed as a feeding adult was predated by a sparrowhawk I was busy taking photos of!

The last two years of reports are 2019 and 2018. As per those reports, as well as GSW and sparrowhawk issues there was one magpie issue one year (badly sited artificial nest over the garage when visiting adult got caught unawares). But, by far the worst problems were caused by house sparrows. Further reports by other people include this, this and this.

This Spring started off with the highest house sparrow count since we arrived eight years ago. I didn't feed over Winter. They had a huge amount of young last year when I also didn't feed them.

They started nesting around the time the rain finally relented. However, other than one nest in a dense hedge, I've not seen any adults feeding or heard any chicks. Weather/heat related???

They did take nesting material into at least four nests. Both swift boxes and two martin nests (one natural and one artificial).

  • For this year, I'll re-label the nests as some of the nests came down since the 2018 & 2019 posts were written. Some of those have been rebult in the same place either from scratch, or repaired. Others haven't.

    Nest 1. The most successful nest over the last few years. Also, the one predated by a GSW in 2012. The hole can possibly be made out in the photo and was repaired with mud by the birds several years ago and been fine since. Currently not used in 2020 and I've not seen an adult enter it yet either.

    Nest 2 is still under construction. Its entrance appears to be on the side nearest the alarm box. It is next to Nest 3 which currently isn't in use. Nest 3 has had sparrows going in earlier in the year but not in recent months.

    Nest 4 is next to the concrete nest. I'll label concrete nest Nest C and am not expecting it to be referred to again as it's never been used. I did see an adult looking carefully into that concrete nest, but decided against it. Maybe the edge of the entrance is too rough, and it does look a fairly tight fit, but not necessarily smaller than other real nests. Nest 4 appears just about finished and its entrance is towards the concrete nest. I am hoping its restricted access will help protect it from sparrows. 

    Nest 5 and nest 6 are also in the picture. Nest 5, like nest 4 is a repaired nest from last year. It's of the 'no entrance' design. The adults squeeze in anywhere along the small gap. Nest 6 is an artificial nest. It was bieng used by sparrows in Spring but the nest failed. I did see a male sparrow caught by a sparrowhawk and the timing suggests it was the male using that nest. Hard to know as there were, and still are, a lot of sparrows about. It failed at that time though. It was the first nest to be taken up by martins. Therefore, it should be the first to hatch. I am almost certain it currently has eggs. Nest 4 & 5 may just about be at the laying stage, or in 5's case, slightly after. Another photo of C, 4, 5 & 6 below.

    Lastly, nests I'm calling 7 and 8. Neither are currently in use. They are often the primary battleground due to being close to a 'swift' nestbox that sparrows take over every year. I ensured there was no access to it for sparrows this Winter so no immediate danger to martin nests. However, at the moment, there are no takers for either nest. In previous years, they were both preferred to the other artifical nests apart from nest 1.

    The one final thought is that next door has martins too. One nest remained from last year. Two more are under construction. What is interesting is the battleground seems to have moved there for the time being.

  • Finally, as mentioned, there are nests over the garage. Both artificial. One has never been used and one has had one successful brood but not been used since a magpie got an adult a few years back. In the unlikely event either get used, I'll add them to the thread. Quite good having that one nest as it's right outside our bedroom window. Unlike sparrows, martin noise can be quite relaxing!
  • Thanks for the update Rob, always interesting to read and I hope those more promising nests will be successful. I'm hoping the three active nests here are going to be successful, as I type this I see the adult birds zipping around for insects and making trips back to the nests so fingers crossed. I have seen several other pairs in our local area (in Cheshire) so hopefully enough will make it through the season to boost their numbers. Unfortunately, I won't be able to update any more after next week as we are due to move into our new home but it is comforting to see that they are doing ok despite a large flock of house sparrows who have also raised broods. I haven't seen any harassment since two male sparrows went close to the first house martins nest to nosy in when I shooed them away; they don't seem to have bothered them since although I obviously can't watch them all the time. Fingers crossed these little HM beauties will make it safely through the season and the young will get to see Africa ! I do have such a huge soft spot for them knowing the journey they make and listening to their chatter when together at the nest. Good luck to your HM's too and keep the updates coming when you can.


    Regards, Hazel 

    "Each kindness shown to birds or men is sure to flutter back again" 

  • thanks. Hazy. Good luck with the move.

    There is a town about 5 miles or so away from me and I was there today. Over the last 5 years, the house martin population has tumbled there. Last year I saw three pairs. One nest definitely had young being fed. The other two were on a different house and had sparrows interacting. Today I didn't see one house martin and I was there over an hour. There is an irony as the sparrows will gradually find less and less nest sites due to the martin nests collapsing and not being replaced due to no martins.

    Anyway, I'll keep this thread posted, site performance permitting. Hopefully, I won't be documenting nest destruction.
  • Sad you didn't see any house martins around the local town and I hope there are enough successful nests throughout UK to sustain their numbers as we can't afford to lose them. There's still a couple of pairs here but not sure where the third pair are although I've not spent much time here today so haven't kept complete tabs on them but the earliest nest is still active thank goodness. Hopefully there are enough martins around this area to produce a number of offspring locally this year but I wonder what the years ahead will hold. Thanks for your updates Rob, I really love the hirundine species of birds and hope they manage to take a few offspring with them back to Africa when they leave in the autumn.


    Regards, Hazel 

    "Each kindness shown to birds or men is sure to flutter back again" 

  • Brilliant documenting and photos Robbo, I look forward to reading the follow posts.


    Flickr Peak Rambler

  • Re sparrows and their interaction with house thing to listen out for is 'churring'. Can't really describe it as anything else. Sparrows make that call a fair amount. No where near as much as the 'cheap cheap'!! But, the churring is something to watch out for if anyone hears it and has spare time. I think they do it when they're on edge. It is pretty much always heard when they're watching martins coming and going, and also when they're either in the martin nests or about to launch an attack.
  • Funny you should mention that Rob as I heard the sparrows make that sound very recently; it happened when a blackbird came in to the courtyard for its share of the the live mealworms and it was like an angry reaction from the sparrows to its presence. I'll have to listen out over the next week and see if I hear the churring again and suss out what it coincides with. It's like the sparrows were very disgruntled ! They are leaving the martins alone from what I can see but I'm not around some of the day with ferrying back and forth to the new place. It's always interesting to have time to study bird behaviour. I used to spend hours watching the various species in our previous woodland garden and you could very often pick individuals out by their sometimes unique characters and anticipate what they would do next. The magic moment (or one of the many for me) was a male Great Spotted Woodpecker hopping right up to within a metre of my feet - of course this only happened during breeding season when their wariness of humans overcame their main focus on live mealworms for their chicks. It was a thrill though !


    Regards, Hazel 

    "Each kindness shown to birds or men is sure to flutter back again" 

  •  Nest 4 is now house sparrow nest 4. I know it was fine first thing this morning. This afternoon, one, or possibly two undeveloped eggs were broken underneath the nest. I have since seen two sparrows go into the nest and one took bits of dry grass in with it.

  • Nest 2 is just about finished now and martins are still visiting it. Of the other two active martin nests, it's unclear if either are still active. Will post tomorrow one way or another.

    If you count nest 4 as one, there are now at least 3 other sparrow nests just within earshot of the bedrooms. The three martin nests next door appear to no longer be martin nests. Two have stopped being built. The one that was completed last year appears to not have any martin visits now. Not seen a sparrow going in recently. Could well be just mucking about, taking over the nest, then moving on to take over a different one. Might even be the same birds that have now taken over nest 4.