Our house martins have gone.
We don’t know exactly when they left as they tend to disappear quietly. No big deal, they seem to say.
But it’s a huge deal.
When our house martins leave they embark on an astounding journey.
Not much is known about their destination, as they’re not often seen once they reach Africa. One theory is that they fly and feed above the rain-forests, and thus escape detection.
I look at these little guys flitting in and out of those amazing nests under the eaves of our house in the Cotswolds, and I cannot imagine them flying above a tropical rain-forest in Africa. Let alone imagine that long and arduous journey.
How they manage to navigate from here to there (and vice versa) is very complex, or, to put it another way, we don’t really know. It seems they get information from the stars as well as from landmarks, but the earth’s magnetic fields play a role too. We do not understand how – although there is an interesting theory concerning quantum entanglement.
We have about 10 or 15 nests. Not all of them are in use during the summer, but we usually have 5 or 6 couples nesting, each producing 2 or 3 broods of 2 or 3 chicks.
At night we hear small sounds from the nests close to our bedroom window, tiny chattering noises as they seem to hold long conversations.
It sounds so cosy.
Some nests last for years, and a side-effect of their extremely tidy and clean housekeeping is that we wind up with heaps of bird poo in various places, which they refuse to clean up.
So we have to.
But really, that is such a small price to pay for the pleasure they give us every summer.
Occasionally a young martin, in a failed attempt to enter a nest, flies into our bedroom and hides behind the curtain. When you carefully pick it up, you feel that surprise that everyone feels when they pick up a bird: it’s just feathers and air.
I used to think that their hollow bones make them lighter, but that’s not true. Hollow bones have to be dense, else they would be too brittle, so a bird skeleton weighs about the same as a mammal skeleton of a similar size.
They always return in April. We listen for them, we watch for them, and when we finally spot those familiar fast flying shapes, the little arrows that dive through the sky, we somehow feel better about everything.
The RSPB assigns colours to birds to indicate how endangered they are. Red means globally threatened, amber means generally a decline in population, and green means all is good.
The house martin is on amber, their numbers are declining in Europe.
There are various and complex reasons for this, but one reason is that people don’t like having them around.
Sadly, there are a lot of articles on-line telling you how to get rid of these fabulous birds and the perceived mess they make. Yet many of those articles remind the reader that house martins are protected by law.
Please keep our martins where they belong. They’re called house martins, remember?