House Martins

  • Hi Firecrest. Just to clarify and reassure, based on what you have written, I don't think you need to worry about this breeding season. It is more likely to be an issue next year and beyond. For the conflict to take off, I think it would need more than pair or two of sparrows as you've already got nestboxes for them. They do show some tendency towards vandalism, but I am more concerned about encouragement leading onto sparrow population increase. That would lead to 'spare sparrows' seeking out new nest sites. Re threads, they're only partially successful. They also need to be a quite precise length. Long enough to limit access for the sparrows, but short enough to not foul up access to and from the nest by martins. The length depends on where they're being hung from, and how low the nests are from there. As I say though, sounds like this year won't be an issue anyway. If you have a couple of successful sparrow nests, and a mild Winter........?
  • I am toying with starting a 2019 thread. Can't decide yet as I found it quite addictive to keep policing the outside of the house! Current activity here though, is many martins arrived late. The flock is at least 18 in this area now which is pretty good compared to recent years (but I am sure nothing like previous decades). There is clearly two nests either just starting incubating or close to egg laying stage. One had two broods last year and is at the very end of the back of the house, furthest away from any sparrows. It had close calls last year, and needed thread repairs to see it through. The other nest is interesting as it was occupied 2012 and 2013 but never again. Watching the martins going in and out today, they were having to squeeze. On the face of it, it is very similar looking to most of the other artificial nests....but it clearly has a shallower entrance. That might be promising. However, it is amongst 3 sparrow nests....

    And finally, while heading out the back to watch that, there were 3 male house sparrows on the roof. Each had a bit of nesting material...........

    Here we go again.....
  • I would definitely read a new thread about your housemartins! I may even respond with updates about my birds if that is OK with you. We have very few housemartins in the area (only seen my 3 pairs this year), one pair of swallows down in the hamlet and no swifts.Very sad and disappointing.
    I was watching the HM's yesterday and noticed a female sparrow land on the sparrow terrace roof several times, hop about a bit then fly away. I assumed I was putting her off but then definitely saw a great tit fly out of the front hole. Great tits were nesting but always using the right hand entrance. Anyway, the female sparrow then went in the central entrance. A bit later, a male sparrow flew onto the roof carrying what looked like a large feather. Female flew out and male flew in. I will try to watch today at some point. I think birds can access all three holes from every compartment but cannot be sure. I know the first year we put it up, a great tit pair had chicks in the right hand compartment and used the middle one as an en-suite toilet.
    Housemartins very busy in all 3 nests. I would think the pair of late-comers have eggs laid or close to it. Pair who arrived April very busy and assume by activity they are incubating eggs. Cannot wait to see the egg shells so I know for certain.
  • Hi there, I found this thread after searching for advice on sparrows bullying house martins.

    I live in a rural village near Stirling which has colony style houses with eaves running the length of the block, which are fantastic for HMs. Its the absolute highlight of the year when they arrive, and the sky is often like a motorway with the number of birds dashing in an out busily building their nests.

    Firstly I have been worried about the returning numbers this year as we have a lot less than normal, which everyone in the village has noticed. My mum monitors numbers over in the central belt and says the same. There are about 7 nests on one side of my block, all of which were occupied by HMs last year. So far only 2 have been occupied by HMs (1 of which sits above my front door) and a couple are occupied by sparrows.

    That's why I'm so annoyed to witness what happened today. The sparrows had taken up residency before our wanderers returned, and are now feeding young. The empty nest above my door had been damaged and I have loved watching the HMs diligently repair this over the last 2 weeks, however to my horror I noticed the sparrows making a racket this afternoon and there appeared to be a scuffle between the birds. It looks like the sparrows have managed to fight the HMs off the nest, after they obligingly repaired it, and are now sitting guarding this nosily like a mob of hooligans lining up on the guttering and hanging off the side of the nest. There's loads of them and the HMs don't stand a chance!

    I can't understand why some of the nests have been left empty altogether by both species, seems like such a shame when there are plenty of options. I guess the sparrows know what they're doing, and waited for the upgrade!

    I'm not a fan of singling out certain species for protection, we often interfere and get it wrong, but I am so sad that the few HMs which made across the seas have been bullied out their nest by a thriving population of sparrows. The sparrows aren't bothered by me at all, I tried shooing them away but of course that didn't work. I came across the RSPB advice re hanging weighted strings and was looking for some examples of that in practice, so thank you Robbo for the photos in your other thread. I just wondered whether trying to hang strings at this stage might scare both species away? The HMs are quite shy, and I might make things worse for them. Is this something better left until next year, before anyone is trying to nest, and hope the HMs aren't spooked by the new obstacles in front of their nests?

    Thanks, Mari
  • Martins, in my experience, are fine with strings being hung at this late stage. Bit of trial and error to get the length right, and they will be wary for a very short while. It worked reasonably here in the end, but I am convinced this sparrow issue is the biggest driver in house Martin decline. It is widespread now I know to watch out for it in other villages. Where there were martins, there are now more sparrows.

    If feeding birds, sparrows are an invasive species. This needs to be publicised by RSPB rather than relentless encouragement of 24x7x365 blanket, untargeted bird feeding.

    You said martins nested last year, and less have returned. Do you know how well the nests ended up doing? Did they all fledge young?

  • P.s. Nice to know my threads have been of help.
  • Yes thanks Robbo, your posts were very helpful. The RSPB seemed to have very little info or case studies other than that one article so it was good to see a working example.

    It certainly looked like all of the nests fledged young last year. I can say more accurately that the nests near my part of the block definitely did, but the ones further along sit above other people's houses so I watched them from afar. However I sat on the steps many an evening watching what seemed like hundreds of HMs flying in an out as they were fledging, so it was certainly a very successful year. The sparrows have erupted this year though, they were a pleasant bird to have around last year and I'm finding them a bit noisy and annoying in numbers this year!

    How did you attach the string to the gutter, did you have somewhere to tie it on?

    I wonder if Firecrest has given this a go yet.
  • Judging by the photos, Firecrest might be lucky and not need to do anything. Sparrows are reasonably good at flying up & in, but prefer either direct flight or side on flight to a nest. If there is a need to fly 'in and up' with like a dip in flight, it's either impossible, or just about enough to put them off. Having said that, I have seen them happy enough to just crash through to the nest. Depends how determined they are to acquire a nest site.

    Re my strings, sparrows do attack them from the guttering. Many were brought down, either by sparrows hacking through, friction from wind moving the string across the guttering edge, or both. I've 'upgraded' with wire or a combination of string and wire for this year. I used a couple of bamboo sticks to attach strings to, and sat them inside the guttering. Not ideal, but I would have had no martin nests fledging if I'd done nothing.

    As it currently stands, I think I have two nests incubating. One is immediately to the left of the downpipe in my 2018 thread. I'm going up the ladder later to attach more strings infront of a part made/part demolished nests that are the centre of most issues at the moment (nests 2 and 3 on page 4 of my 2018 thread which both had side entrances....and were then part trashed in the Autumn and Winter by sparrows).
  • No I haven't Mari as I haven't many house sparrows in my garden, only seen1 pair this year. I do see tree sparrows coming to feed but they have never nested in my garden or the boxes. I have not seen any aggression between sparrows and HM this year although I realise that does not mean it has not happened. I really do enjoy the sparrows and was very pleased to see them return as there were none to be seen anywhere for the first 10 years or so I lived here. I am grateful to Robbo for his advice as it is good to be aware.

    I do agree with you about trying to interfere too much with different species. (Yes, people will argue I am interfering by feeding birds...fair enough). Every time so called experts have interfered in the past, we see more problems. I am afraid I am disgusted with my local wildlife group who go about shooting every grey squirrel they see. (They refer to it as "dispatching" rather than killing and make the same excuses and give the same reasons as every hunting & shooting group around) I have absolutely nothing to do with them.

    Yes, I will do everything I can to help house martins but I would never deliberately hurt any other bird to do so.
  • Because you are that far North, Firecrest, it is inevitable grey squirrels will be shot due to the scientific evidence re red squirrels. Another example of species v species where humans have to make a decision to leave it to luck & survivla of the strongest species or conservation of the weakest.