Sand Martin

Riparia riparia

12cm

Appearance

The Sand Martin has a subtle fork in the tail, and the wings are angular and pointy-ended, appearing more slender than the House Martin's wings. This bird is sandy brown on top and white underneath, except for a brown band on the breast. Juvenile birds resemble adults but their feathers have pale margins that create a scaly effect, and the breast band is not as visible.

Habitat

Relies on steep banks of sand for nesting sites, usually near to waterways such as rivers. Feeding also often occurs near water, but may visit expansive countryside as well; is adverse to populated areas and mountain ranges. Roosts may gather in reeds.

Character

The Sand Martin is a social bird; breeding takes place colonially, feeding often occurs in groups, flocks form for migration, and roosting occurs in groups during the evening. When flying, Sand Martins are rapid and nimble, and often pluck insect prey from the air.

Food

Diet includes midges, flies and aphids, and a range of other insects, often caught in flight.

Breeding

Female lays 4 or 5 eggs which both parents incubate for 14-15 days. Hatchlings depart the nest at around 22 days old. If conditions allow it, a second brood may be reared. Female may desert first brood to breed with a different male, and males may rear young and then find a new mate too.

Population

A summer visitor that is generously distributed across the region, arriving between March and April. Birds travel south-east in August, on their way to Africa; they begin their northern return around February and March. There are approximately 54 000-174 000 pairs in the UK and 100 000-250 000 in Ireland, though annual numbers vary significantly.

Observation Tips

The Sand Martin has a fairly large distribution during summer so do not usually present too many challenges for viewing at this time of year. Breeding groups are busy and raucous and therefore can be quite conspicuous. Some large groups may gather over large bodies of water in the south of the region, particularly before they set off for migration in autumn.

Voice

Has a variety of croaky tweets and chatterings.
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