Sand Martin

Riparia riparia (Linnaeus, 1758) SM SANMA 9810
Family: Passeriformes > Hirundinidae

Sand Martin, Liz Cutting

The smallest of our hirundines, the Sand Martin can be found nesting in colonies in sandy banks across Britain & Ireland.

The Sand Martin is amongst our earliest summer visitors to arrive, often being seen during the first two weeks of March. It is also one of our earliest to go again, with most birds leaving the country in early September, heading for wintering locations south of the Sahara. Compared to House Martins, Sand Martins have a plainer appearance, with mostly brown plumage apart from a white chin and belly.

A long-distance migrant to our shores, ringed Sand Martins have been shown to cover distances in excess of 4,000 km between the UK and their wintering locations. UK Sand Martin numbers have fluctuated in recent decades, but a recent uptick led to them being moved from the Amber to the Green List in 2015. In the breeding season, Sand Martins can be found across Britain & Ireland.

Exploring the trends for Sand Martin

Our Trends Explorer will also give you the latest insight into how the UK's Sand Martin population is changing.

trends explorer


Sand Martin identification is often straightforward. The following article may help when identifying Sand Martin.

related video

Identifying Hirundines and Swift

With their swept back wings and aerial lifestyle hirundines (Swallow, Sand and House Martins) and the similar, but unrelated, Swift often cause ID headaches. Let us help you to separate these amazing summer visitors.


Listen to example recordings of the main vocalisations of Sand Martin, provided by xeno-canto contributors.

Begging call

Flight call

Alarm call


Develop your bird ID skills with our training courses

Our interactive online courses are a great way to develop your bird identification skills, whether you're new to the hobby or a competent birder looking to hone your abilities.

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Status and Trends

Population size and trends and patterns of distribution based on BTO surveys and atlases with data collected by BTO volunteers.


This species can be found on the following statutory and conservation listings and schedules.



This species is unusually difficult to monitor, because active and inactive nest holes are difficult to distinguish, and because whole colonies frequently disperse or shift to new locations as suitable sand cliffs are created and destroyed. WBS counts were of apparently occupied nest holes along riverbanks but BBS and WBBS record birds seen. WBS/WBBS suggests a stable or shallowly increasing population, with wide fluctuations, although the decrease during the late 1990s and early 2000s was steep enough to raise BTO alerts in previous reports. BBS counts also show that large year-to-year changes occur, but do not yet reveal a clear long-term trend. Though previously amber listed through its 'depleted' status in Europe, the species was moved to the UK green list in 2015 (Eaton et al. 2015).

Exploring the trends for Sand Martin

Our Trends Explorer will also give you the latest insight into how the UK's Sand Martin population is changing.

trends explorer


Breeding Sand Martins occur throughout Ireland whereas in Britain they are localised south of a line from the Wash to the Severn Estuary. They remain scarce in the Outer Hebrides and are absent from Shetland.

Occupied 10-km squares in UK

European Distribution Map

European Breeding Bird Atlas 2

Relative frequency by habitat

Relative occurrence in different habitat types during the breeding season.

>Bar of similar size indicate the species is equally likely to be recorded in those habitats


In Wales and Ireland Sand Martin range has been relatively stable. In Scotland there are range extensions into the northwest and onto some of the Inner Hebrides and to Orkney. Abundance has increased in Ireland, Scotland and northern England but decreased across much of southern England.

Change in occupied 10-km squares in the UK


Sand Martin is one of the earliest summer visitors, arriving from mid March onwards, departing through August and September.

Weekly occurence of Sand Martin from BirdTrack
Weekly occurrence patterns (shaded cells) and reporting rates (vertical bars) based on BirdTrack data. Reporting rates give the likelihood of encountering the species each week.


Information about movement and migration based on online bird portals (e.g. BirdTrack), Ringing schemes and tracking studies.

An overview of year-round movements for the whole of Europe can be seen on the EuroBirdPortal viewer.


View a summary of recoveries in the Online Ringing Report.

Foreign locations of birds ringed or recovered in Britain & Ireland

Foreign locations of Sand Martin ringed or recovered in Britain & Ireland
Encountered in: Winter (Nov-Feb); Spring (Mar-Apr); Summer (May-Jul); Autumn (Aug-Oct)


Lifecycle and body size information about Sand Martin, including statistics on nesting, eggs and lifespan based on BTO ringing and nest recording data.


Exploring the trends for Sand Martin

Our Trends Explorer will also give you the latest insight into how the UK's Sand Martin population is changing.

trends explorer


View number ringed each year in the Online Ringing Report

Exploring the trends for Sand Martin

Our Trends Explorer will also give you the latest insight into how the UK's Sand Martin population is changing.

trends explorer


Feather measurements and photos on featherbase


For information in another language (where available) click on a linked name

Gaelic: Gobhlan-gainmhich
Welsh: Gwennol y Glennydd
Catalan: oreneta de ribera comuna
Czech: brehule rícní
Danish: Digesvale
Dutch: Oeverzwaluw
Estonian: kaldapääsuke
Finnish: törmäpääsky
French: Hirondelle de rivage
German: Uferschwalbe
Hungarian: partifecske
Icelandic: Bakkasvala
Irish: Gabhlán Gainimh
Italian: Topino
Latvian: krastu curkste
Lithuanian: paprastoji urvine kregžde
Norwegian: Sandsvale
Polish: brzegówka (zwyczajna)
Portuguese: andorinha-do-barranco / andorinha-das-barreiras
Slovak: brehula hnedá
Slovenian: breguljka
Spanish: Avión zapador
Swedish: backsvala
Folkname: Water Swallow


Interpretation and scientific publications about Sand Martin from BTO scientists.


Causes of change

The main drivers of change are uncertain. The number of fledglings per breeding attempt has not changed although this is based on a small sample. There is some evidence that population changes may be linked to overwinter survival but the ecological processes for this are unclear and the findings from different studies have sometimes been inconsistent.

Further information on causes of change

Arrival dates in the UK advanced by over three weeks between the 1960s and the 2000s (Newson et al. 2016), but laying dates have not changed so it is unclear whether this may have an effect on the population. Nest-record samples are small, but indicate that nest failure rates have decreased enormously since the 1960s; however brood size has also decreased and no trend can be detected in the numbers of fledglings per breeding attempt.

Rainfall in the species' trans-Saharan wintering grounds prior to the birds' arrival promotes annual survival and thus abundance in the following breeding season (Szep 1995). A study in Italy found that, since around 2000, this link no longer held there, perhaps because more recent wintering conditions had been less extreme, although the data suggested that there may still be some weak influence of winter climate on survival (Masoero et al. 2016). However, another recent study confirmed that winter climate and conditions on passage were still the main drivers of breeding abundance at a site in Lancashire (Mondain-Monval et al. 2020). Annual survival rates from RAS sites in the UK for 1990-2004 were correlated positively with minimum monthly rainfall during the wet season in West Africa (Robinson et al. 2008). Mark-recapture in Cheshire during 1981-2003 found that, after allowing for the effects of African rainfall, some demographic measures were density dependent, with adult survival low when wintering densities (measured as the size of the western European population) were high and recruitment low when the local Cheshire population was high (Norman & Peach 2013). This study did not replicate an earlier finding (Cowley & Siriwardena 2005) that summer rainfall on the breeding grounds has a negative influence on survival rates through the following winter.

Information about conservation actions

The drivers of change for this species are uncertain, but may relate at least in part to conditions in wintering areas; hence it is unclear whether conservation actions taken in the UK will have any significant effect on the population.

However, the building of artificial sandbanks and nest holes to provide nesting habitat for Sand Martins has successfully attracted them to breed at sites in the UK (Hopkins 2001). Another method which has been used successfully to create artificial burrows is by drilling holes, e.g. into a limestone cliff (Gulickx et al. 2007).

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