House Martins in need of nosy neighbours

Published on 20 April 2017 in News and comment

As House Martins begin to return from a winter in Africa, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) are asking those people fortunate enough to have them nest under their eaves to get nosy and watch what they do throughout this spring and summer.

The BTO is calling on members of the public to follow and record the nesting activity of House Martins to help understand why they are in trouble, and to submit this information to the BTO’s House Martin Survey.

The House Martin, a summer visitor to the UK which builds a circular nest using around a thousand beakfuls of mud, is in rapid decline in some parts of the country and is ‘Amber-listed’ as a bird of conservation concern. However, in spite of the strong decline in England of 50% between 1989 and 2014, the House Martin is currently increasing in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The BTO are looking for volunteers who are able to observe a nest (or a group of nests) for a few minutes, approximately once a week throughout the breeding season (which can last from April to September). Volunteers do not need to be able to look inside the nests, as all observations can be made from ground level (or from another vantage point where the nests can be safely viewed without disturbing the birds). After recording a small amount of information about the site on their first visit, on each subsequent visit volunteers will simply need to record the condition of each nest and what activity is taking place at the nest.

Volunteers are free to pick their own study site, which can be anywhere where House Martins are nesting.  The survey is therefore ideal for those who have House Martins nesting on or near their home or place of work, but nests elsewhere can be studied provided they can be visited regularly for the whole breeding season. The BTO are looking for volunteers throughout the UK, as observations from areas where they are increasing will help identify why they are declining elsewhere.

House Martins return to their breeding sites in late April, and usually prefer to occupy existing nest sites if they can. In 2016, nest building and repairing activity peaked during May and the proportion of nests with young peaked in late June and early July. The 2017 survey begins in April, when volunteers will be able to register via the BTO House Martin Survey pages. Further information about the survey is available on the website.

The BTO research project, funded by BTO members and supporters through an appeal, aims to provide scientific evidence about House Martins and identify why they are in trouble, and hence start to look for solutions.