House Martins Colonize My Eaves

“In September countless sand and house-martins jazz above the river, taking insects from the surface, from the air, thousands of birds kissing the river farewell. They creak, a sound like the air rubbing against itself. Summer is everything they know; they’re preparing themselves, sensing in the shortening days a door they must dash through before it shuts.”

Kathleen Jamie

This morning I pegged white cotton sheets to the clothesline in balmy 15 degrees and watched them unfurl in the gentle breeze. The freshly mown grass at my feet verdant and green. All the while the House Martins flit industrously about me, alighting at the eaves in their flurry of nest building.  Little wonders of nature that have migrated from Morocco brought back by their homing instincts, to nest and to brood in the place that they were born. It is the simple things in life that give the most pleasure. What a privilege.

House Martins build a closed cup nest from mud pellets under the eaves of buildings, usually in colonies and usually on the north face. So far there are 19 nests with one or two of them semi-detatched.  I’d like to think that my eves are like Ashford Castle to the Martins, but, in reality I know that my eaves are probably a bit like the Best Exoctic Marigold Hotel. Certainly there isn’t opulent luxury though they do hold a certain charm. My eaves are clean and sturdy, rustic and scenic and most of the time they are peaceful and calm, and well tucked up away nice and dry from the cats paws.

Known as the “Guest(s) of summer” they are amazing to watch. They scoop down to the banks of the stream at the bottom of the field. They gather scoops of mud in their wings, only to flutter and prattle their way back to the nest, building it in a neat seamless weave…“his pendant bed and procreant cradle.” The nests are works of art if ever I saw one. Sometimes they have a showdown with the House Sparrow who tries to commandeer their abodes, to no avail I might add, theese birds are fiesty, they guard their patch.

“This guest of summer,

The temple-haunting martlet, does approve         

By his loved mansionry that the heaven’s breath

Smells wooingly here.

No jutty, frieze,

Buttress, nor coign of vantage, but this bird

Hath made his pendant bed and procreant cradle;

Where they most breed and haunt, I have observed. (1)

All birds their nests and eggs are protected by the Wildlife & Countryside Act of 1981. This makes it an offence, to deliberately take, damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird while it is in use or being built. It is also illegal to take or destroy the egg of any wild bird. This species is on the decline and  Martin colonies have declined by as much as 65%.

House Martins have black/blue backs, white underside and a distinctive white rump and a much shorter tail. The shape of the birds’ wings allow them to glide, swoop and dive, making sharp turns while flying at high speeds as they chase after insects over lakes, rivers and fields, which is great for us as they help to keep the gnat population down.

The House Martin is a lucky bird its said that any house it builds its nest on is forever blessed with happiness. I am lucky they have chosen my eaves and they are as welcome as the flowers in May, sure they are no trouble at all.

(1)The air is delicate.” (Macbeth, Act I, scene VI).

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