26 June 2010 - Martin Numbers Continue to Fall PDF Print E-mail

It seems that numbers of house martin, one of my favourite summer visitors, have fallen this year.

Experts analysing the RSPB's 'making your nature count' survey have revealed that house martins now nest on only 5% of UK homes, compared with 7% in 2005.

It's not certain what is causing fewer of these beautiful little birds to return to Britain to breed each year, but there are a host of potential factors including disturbance and habitat changes at their African wintering grounds and the reduced number of insects to feed on – both here, in Africa and along their migratory route.

I've certainly noticed a reduction in house martins near my home. When I moved to my current address ten years ago there were 13 occupied nests in my street.... now there are only a handful!

One of the first things I did when I moved here was to make and site two artificial nesting cups under my eaves. The birds took to them straight away and have continued to use them each year since. I feel privileged to have them here and thoroughly enjoy waking up to their chattering and watching their silhouettes flit across the curtains.

Building or repairing a damaged mud nest can take a pair of house martins three weeks, so having an artificial nest cup to use means that they can crack on with rearing young as soon as they arrive. Consequently they can raise more than one brood and their young have more time to put on weight before heading south in the autumn.

Some people don't like house martins nesting on their home as the young birds have the rather scruffy habit of pooing directly out of the nest – causing dollops of mess below the nest. Personally it doesn't bother me; If I find discarded egg shells under the nest I can tell how many young have hatched, and the poo reassures me of the youngsters welfare.

If you are troubled by martins messing on your door step or window sills, simply place a few nest cups this winter in places where the birds mess won't bother you.

Summit Surprise

I've just come back, with some colleagues ,from the 'Three Peaks Challenge', a charity event which entails hiking up Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon within 24 hours. As we were walking quickly there wasn't time to fit in any bird watching, but I was delighted on reaching the summit of Ben Nevis to see a pair of snow bunting, a bird I've wanted to see for ages. Only about 100 pairs breed in the UK (mainly in the Highlands) and although I hoped to see them, I wasn't seriously expecting to... I was so pleased that I stopped moaning about my blisters and aching legs (albeit only for a short while)!

Coming Up

There is a smashing guided birdwatching walk taking place on Saturday 17th July at Goytre House Wood, a little gem of a reserve situated just off the A4042 Newport to Abergavenny road. This 3 hour walk is being led by affable local birders Alan Williams and Rob Moeller, and starts at the Goytre Arms car park at 8.00am. Alan and Rob know this area inside out, and will lead you to see a host of species as well as being on hand to help you identify your sightings and enjoy the walk.

New faces are always welcome at GOS events – Please wear suitable clothing, bring refreshments and binoculars if you have them.

For more details visit www.gwentbirds.org.uk or give me a call on the number below.

Keep in Touch

Thank you to all readers who have taken the time to get in touch. I enjoy hearing from you and can be contacted at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or on 01633 866470.

Mark Stevens