This week we have a guest blog from one our Wingbeat readers Bessie Hyman, highlighting the plight of the house martin: 

My name is Bessie Hyman, I am 14 years old and I live in Somerset by the River Avon. I enjoy photographing and exploring nature. My dream job would be as a conservationist or wildlife cameraman.

Ever since I can remember I have been interested in nature. One time when I was about seven, I stood in the garden with the bird book my neighbour had given to me for my birthday, trying to work out whether the birds fliting above me were swallows or house martins.

I discovered the ones nesting by our house were swallows and the ones disappearing behind over our roof were house martins, and at that time I was simply amazed by their beauty. But as I got older I started to realise that these birds might not always be there; that they were struggling and needed our help.

House martins are small birds belonging to the family Hirundinidae which also includes swallows. In the winter they migrate to Africa, although very little is known about where exactly they go. They are very rarely observed in Africa, which some people believe is because they spend their time on the wing, hunting above the rainforest out of sight. But maybe in several years’ time new technology might be available which will allow for them to be tracked as they migrate.

Recently house martins have been declining and although still widespread now, they may not be such a common sight in the not too distant future. House martins appear to have dropped 65% in just 40 years, not only in England but also in the rest of Europe, causing them to be amber listed. Any further reductions could mean they become red listed along with other species that have seen declines of 50% or more over the last 25 years.

It is clear that they are plummeting, but why? Well it seems that nobody really knows. There are several theories: one is that new building techniques are not allowing for nesting space and walls are too smooth for mud to stick to. This could mean that many broods are unsuccessful due to unsuitable nesting sites. Another theory is that climate change could be affecting when house martins arrive in the UK, meaning that they miss the highlight of nesting activity. Could climate change and drought be making it harder to find suitable nesting materials? Their nests take around 1,000 beak-sized pellets of mud to build. Have changes in land use affected insect populations making it hard to find food?

Whatever the reason it is clear that house martins need our help. The British Trust for Ornithology has set up a survey to hopefully discover why they are in decline. The first part will consist of volunteers mapping nest sites. The second part will consist of observing nests. They can then try to tackle the main issues and give house martins the best chance they can.  

If you are interested in this subject and would like to find out more you can visit: www.rspb.org.uk/discoverandenjoynature/discoverandlearn/birdguide/name/h/housemartin/

Or go to my blog at: photographingdabblingducks.wordpress.com

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