We were pleased to work with
the BBC Radio 4 World on the Move series to look at what
was happening to House Martins during the 2008 breeding season.
We are very grateful to everybody who has
taken the trouble to send in information about their House
Martins. Brett Westwood, from the BBC Radio 4 World on the
Move series and I had been talking about the apparent lack
of birds this spring and I was delighted to be asked to work
with the programme-makers to develop the House Martin Survey.
BTO colleagues quickly developed a questionnaire and we were
pleased when over 1000 people sent us their data. I hope that
you enjoy reading about the results of this year's survey
and the anecdotes that people have kindly shared with us.
Key points from the 2008 survey.
- Over 1250 people provided information.
- There was little evidence to
show that House Martin numbers were down. Many birds were
just very late arriving back from Africa.
- There were increases in occupancy
rate in Northern Ireland and Scotland. The only small decline
was in Southern England.
Please click on the button to download a copy of the House Martin
National map for
We were keen to know where House Martins were breeding so
that we can produce a House Martin map for the new national
Bird Atlas project.
The aim is to create an up-to-date distribution map for every
species in Britain. House Martins are really difficult to
pin down; although some places always have loads of House
Martins, other colonies can move about from year to year.
The last national distribution map for House Martins (see
right) is based on information from nearly twenty years ago.
As you can see, House Martins were found across most of the
British Isles, with the biggest concentrations in England.
The real hot-spots from the period 1988 to 1991 are in red
A poor year for Swallows
and House Martins?
House Martins, like Swallows, spend the winter in Africa but probably
not quite as far south. The theory is that British and Irish House
Martins spend our winters hunting for insects over the forests of
equatorial Africa. However, these are thinly-populated areas and
we have virtually no reports of BTO-ringed birds from south of the
Sahara. We do know that, just like Swallows, they fly north in the
spring, crossing North Africa, Spain and France and arriving here
in April and May. Birdwatchers contributing to Bird
Track, the joint BTO, RSPB and BirdWatch Ireland project to
collect bird records, were worried that far fewer House Martins
made it back this summer. They wondered if they had been adversely
affected by poor weather in southern Europe during the spring. In
fact, as you will read in the House Martin newsletter, there seem
to have been only local declines. Many people did note that birds
were very late in arriving.
House Martins are hard to understand. Some people say that they
will take readily to artificial nests, saving themselves a good
ten days of nest building, but in other colonies the concrete homes
are ignored. We received some interesting comments from people who
had tried artificial nests - successfully and unsuccessfully.
This World on the Move House Martin survey
is just one of many surveys organised by the BTO. Some
people choose to count birds on estuaries, in fields or
on our coasts but much valuable information can be collected
from the comfort of an armchair. If you care about garden
birds, why not join Garden
and tell us what happens in your own personal
You can also contribute further to the
by looking out for birds in your local area.
We’re particularly interested in species such as
Tawny Owl, Barn Owl, Kingfisher and, in the winter, we
are keen to receive records of Siskin, Goldfinch and Blackcap.
If you have further queries please