Weekly Photo Challenge: Twist For The House Martin

This week’s theme for the Weekly Photo Challenge is ‘Twist’.

Krista asks:

‘This week, share a photo of something that says “twist” to you. It might be that perfect ice cream cone, a yummy bit of liquorice, or something unexpected that surprised, shocked, or startled you.’

My take on the ‘twist’ theme might seem strange as it’s about some mischievous little birds called House Martins.

We were visited by our cheeky feathered friends during the first spring after we moved to our present home six years ago.

Having migrated all the way from Africa to the UK as they do every year and looking for places to nest, a large group of house martins decided that they rather fancied the look of our house very much indeed.

We, in turn, were delighted to have them.  At first.

House martins are found throughout the UK between April and October, more  commonly  in areas where they can nest beneath the eaves of houses close to agricultural areas with woodland and water.

In this way, they are well placed for two things: plenty of insects, their food supply, and mud which they use to build their nests (mixing it with their saliva).

The problem, we soon realised, was the manic flurry of nest-building taking place under the eaves was directly above our bedroom window.

The constant coming and going of the busy sets of parents flitting past our window (and there were several thanks to the colony of nests our house martins had built) kept our two cats very amused indeed.

It was like an interactive bird video game for them; ever-alert, they crouched and paced intermittently on the inside window ledge,  their heads twitching rapidly, left and right with every flutter of the blue-black wings, taunting them mercilessly as they zipped by outside.

Of course, this meant that we had to keep our windows closed so that the cats wouldn’t leap out trying to catch these exciting new toys.

This made for a very stuffy bedroom during the hot summer months but the ceiling fan we installed when we moved in came into its own.

The house martins chattered away to each other, even louder at dawn and as their chicks hatched.

Not only had they moved in but they claimed squatter’s rights;  they staked their claim and they weren’t going anywhere until they said so.

They also pooped down our windows until October when, all the chicks having fledged (house martins often have a second brood) our boisterous visitors left as quickly as they had arrived.

Come the winter, the nests having been abandoned, we cleared them away, cleaned our windows and our early morning peace was restored.

Then came the surprise, the ‘twist’. Although I had grown up in the countryside where house martins were a constant spring/summer presence, I realised just how little I knew about them and my interest being piqued, I decided to find out some more.

Firstly, I was concerned to learn that, according to the British Trust of Ornithology website, house martins are on the Amber list, the first criteria of which is defined here by the RSPB Bird Guide,

Species with unfavourable conservation status in Europe.’

Their numbers have dwindled by some fifteen percent and there are house martin surveys, projects and tracking events, all to better understand them, where in Africa they spend their winters and their behavioral patterns, hopefully preventing them from becoming endangered.

But I was astounded to learn this from the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) website:

‘House martins and their nests are fully protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which makes it an offence intentionally to kill, injure or take any wild bird. It is an offence to intentionally take, damage or destroy the eggs, young or nest of a house martin whilst it is being built or in use.  

The Act allows for fines up to £5,000 and/or a 6 month prison sentence for every bird, egg or nest destroyed.’

Not that we ever had any intention of interfering with or removing the house martins’ nests when in use, far from it, but who knew?  We certainly didn’t.

Yet, the following year and every year since (yes, they’re back again!) house martins return to the very same spot where their nests had been, swooping past our bedroom window, clinging to the brickwork just below the eaves, as noisy and playful as ever.

I was really surprised when our friends returned and then to be able to get these shots of them:

House Martins in Somerset (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

House Martins in Somerset
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

You can see evidence of the old nests beneath the wooden eaves just above our bedroom window.

More visiting House Martins in Somerset (c) Sherri Matthews 2014

More visiting House Martins in Somerset
(c) Sherri Matthews 2014

Maybe they are deciding whether to nest there again but even though we have done nothing to prevent these beautiful birds from doing so,  there are no signs of new nests.

I wonder, are these visitors the families who hatched here a few years ago, returning to breed and rebuild their summer homes? I wonder why, despite all the interest, they haven’t re-nested? I would love to know!

It seems that we know far less about these enchanting, but very noisy and messy little birds, than we realised.

One thing I do know, and as much I love these little beauties, if they do decide to nest here again this year I’ll be investing in some very good earplugs and will make sure to cancel the window cleaner until well beyond summer’s end.

 

About Sherri Matthews

Sherri has been writing full time since 2011. Currently working on her memoir, 'Stranger in a White Dress', she has been published in a variety of national magazines, websites and three anthologies. Sherri raised her three, now adult children, in California for twenty years and today, lives in England’s West Country with her hubby, Aspie youngest, two cats, a grumpy bunny and a family of Chinese Button Quails. She keeps out of mischief blogging, gardening, walking by the sea and snapping endless photographs. Her garden robin muse vists regularly.
This entry was posted in Birds of a Feather, Nature & Wildlife, Weekly Photo Challenge and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

59 Responses to Weekly Photo Challenge: Twist For The House Martin

  1. Oh Sherri! I love this! I would live with poop on my windows to enjoy this video. You know me, I love my birds, so watching this video was amazing. Don’t you love the birds who return each year?
    I think they need to build a bigger nest, but perhaps they enjoy their space. Great post! xo

    Like

    • PS. DFD just watched the video…he loved it! xo

      Like

      • Sherri says:

        Glad DFD enjoyed it…wish I could take the credit for it, I got it off You Tube and was really glad to find it as it perfectly shows just what it’s like to have house martins nesting on your house 🙂 xo

        Like

    • Sherri says:

      Haha! Yes, it does make all the bird poop on the windows worth it when I remember who is doing it and how cute these little birds are! I feel really privileged to have them with us and to have them return each year. The nests do seem very small don’t they? When they nested the first year we had several of these nests built in a colony just above our bedroom window, it was quite a sight. They also nested at the front of the house so we were covered!!!
      Thanks Jill, so glad you enjoyed this post as I do know how much you love your birds 🙂 xo

      Like

  2. Ha ha. I had robins every year for I don’t know how long and doves but the doves were too nervous or maybe we were too noisy and their eggs never seems to make it.
    I can’t imagine the mess and noise but you are real troopers to put up with them year after year. They are handsome birds. First time I’ve seen them. Love the video. 😀

    Like

    • Sherri says:

      Oh how lovely to have robins, you know how much I adore them! Doves too, how wonderful. But as you say, these birds can be nervy. We had a robin nest once, in a bush right outside our kitchen door but a cat (not one of ours I might add!!) got to them while we were away and killed the babies, I was devastated… 😦
      If our house was bigger and we were out in the country it would be great so I was really surprised that they decided to nest on our house, although we are in town but we are on the edge of countryside and woodland. We are high up too so obviously they like the position…you know what they say, location, location, location… haha!
      Glad you enjoyed, thanks Tess (and the video too, although it’s not mine, got it off You Tube 😉 ) 😀

      Like

      • Shucks, you didn’t need to ‘confess’. I thought the video was yours and wondered how you managed to make it without the little guys flying away. +_+

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      • Sherri says:

        Well…I could have pretended but then…also, to get this kind of a view I would have had to hang out of the bedroom window, haha! If they nest again though I will try and video them and hope that the zoom lens goes in close enough, although I could always edit it I suppose…just another project to consider, hey ho… o_O

        Like

  3. Delightfully informative post, Sherri. Aren’t these the birds that every mosquito-infested backyard owner prays will move in?

    Like

    • Sherri says:

      So glad you enjoyed it Nav, thank you very much 🙂 And yes, they would be anyone’s answer to prayer as this is just what they do, swoop all day long, feasting on all those pesky insects and mosquitos 😀

      Like

  4. Heyjude says:

    We had sparrows at the flat, every year they would nest in the eaves. I loved to hear the chicks. Here we just see the swifts when they return from Africa flying constantly above our house with their screams and shrieks and acrobatic manoeuvres. We usually see bats at dusk too, goodness knows where they hang out, but plenty of old eaves in Ludlow! Haven’t seen them yet this year. I do think your house martins need a bigger nest, there’s not much room for the two of them!
    We are lucky to see and hear them I think, who cares about clean windows 😀

    Like

    • Sherri says:

      I do love to hear chicks too Jude. Always fascinated me and It isn’t summer without those shrieks you so perfectly describe from the swallows. Bats too. I used to be really scared of them but love to see them at dusk now.
      The house martins make a really unusual noise when they ‘chatter’ to one another, really loud when it’s magnified right about our bedroom window and I’m a light sleeper at the best of times but even then it is lovely to have them. Still, as you say, worth it to have the privilege of having them choose our eaves. The main difficulty is not being able to open our windows at night…as I said, love the ceiling fan 🙂 I am waiting to see if they do the same this year but no nests as yet…a lot of interest though…and I’ll give up on the windows, lol 😀

      Like

  5. Smiled through your story except for that last part-yikes. It reminds me of the swallows we have here in the States. We are not allowed to remove their nests either and they are messy too. Of course beautiful and fun to watch but wow not to be able to keep the windows open and having your sleep interrupted! Not my cup of tea. Bless you for your patience even before you knew of the fine and prison time! 🙂 Another thoroughly enjoyable read my friend!! ❤

    Like

    • Sherri says:

      We had no idea about the legal rights that house martins have, not even realised that they were endangered! You learn something new every day don’t you? It was our window cleaner who first mentioned it but he wasn’t sure and so I decided to do my own research and found all this out…yikes 😮
      Thank you my friend, as always, so glad you enjoyed this photo challenge… ❤ 🙂 xo

      Like

    • Sherri says:

      Thanks Andy, but I can’t take credit for it…got it off You Tube but is shows exactly what it’s like having house martins nest on our house 🙂

      Like

  6. Sherri, this is great! Until you are trying to sleep. 🙂 It reminds me of the peregrine falcons and their babies except that there is a difference in watching them via a live cam from very far away and having them by your bedroom window! I hope for your sake they decide that they are going to build a nest elsewhere. I enjoyed the video too. 🙂

    Like

    • Sherri says:

      I thought of you Maria when I posted this! Yes, I do love having the birds here but they do make a racket that’s for sure! Even if we close our door to keep the cats out at night so we aren’t bothered at dawn when they want to play their ‘bird video game’ we can’t keep the windows open, only on the latch, as I’m worried one of the birds will fly in the room! They are literally right above it!!
      I hope your falcons and their babies are doing well…and Springwatch has started up again over here, yay 😀

      Like

  7. Rachel M says:

    What lovely birds! I love it when wildlife make our backyard their home. We have lots of birds here but there was much more diversity at my old home in Brisbane. I miss the Australian wildlife.

    Like

    • Sherri says:

      They are beautiful birds Rachel and I love to see them swooping above us all summer long, along with the swallows, catching all those insects, lol 😉 I can well imagine that the Australian wildlife must be magnificent. Hope things are going well for you and yours 🙂

      Like

  8. Such little cuties. It’s brilliant that they get to nest at your house where they’re safe. My guys make a racket all day, and poop at will all over the place. 😀 XXXXXXXX

    Like

    • Sherri says:

      Ahh yes, some bird racket and poop doesn’t take away from your lovely feathered friends and the joy they bring you 😀 I’m so glad too Jo that the house martins have a safe place but I honestly had no idea of their legal status, so glad to have found out. I’ve always been fascinated with birds and felt really privileged to have them stay with us. Not sure if they will this year but there is a lot of ‘house-hunting’ going on, lol 🙂 xxxxxxxxxxx 😀

      Like

  9. thirdhandart says:

    I can picture your cats crouching and pacing on the inside window ledge. The ‘bird video game’ must have been nerve wrecking for everyone involved.
    Beautiful birds… and they built an amazing nest! But the mud, saliva and bird poop couldn’t have been good for your house.
    Maybe the house martins found a ‘better’ place to nest this year. If not, the earplugs sound like a good investment Sherri!

    Like

    • Sherri says:

      Very nerve wracking Theresa! I was terrified that the cats would go flying out of the window in their exuberance to get to their new ‘toys’ so have to keep them closed to be safe. The racket going in the early morning when they would be so desperate to get at them was what woke me up more than the birds themselves 😦
      When we spoke to our window cleaner about the mess he was the one who first of all told us about the possibility of fines etc. so that’s when I looked it all up and found out about the legal status of these birds. We had no idea! I’ll keep you posted with the nesting, thanks Theresa 😀

      Like

  10. y. prior says:

    really enjoyed this take on the challenge – and this struck me “returning to breed and rebuild their summer homes?” (you know – because of your view from your summer home)
    and well, the photos are cool and I skimmed that video – which was neat – and the blue on these birds is just brilliant. And well, also interesting to learn all those interesting factoids – 🙂 ❤

    Like

    • Sherri says:

      You know Yvette, I love how you find these little hidden snippets. And interestingly, I can see the house martins returning, looking to rebuild their ‘summer homes’ from my summerhouse, so the ‘view’ is spot on today, in more ways than one, lol 😀
      The photos are mine but the video is from YouTube so can’t take the credit for that. I wanted to show what it is like to have house martins nesting under the eaves like this and also the sound they make and this is as close as it could be!
      They are indeed beautiful and very mischievous little creatures and I had fun learning the factoids about them too…so thank you Y, so glad you enjoyed my take on the challenge 😀 >3

      Like

  11. This is such an interesting post, Sherri!
    Isn’t it amazing that such tiny birds fly so far and have such amazing engineering / house building skills!! Do keep us posted if they do return this year – It will be a blessing in disguise either way!
    Emma 🙂

    Like

    • Sherri says:

      Hello Emma! How lovely to hear from you, thank you 🙂 I’m glad you found this interesting, I do like it when I can share things I’ve found out like this, we had no idea about the legal status of house martins, but of course would never have done anything to disturb them either way.
      I agree, it is really fascinating how these birds have such amazing skills like this and what is evident is that we really know so little about all birds when it comes right down to it.
      I will certainly keep you posted, have a lovely day Emma 😀 ❤

      Like

  12. bulldog says:

    The common house martin is a visitor to South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe.. it has even been recorded to attempt to breed here, but from what I understand un-successfully. It feeds higher in the sky than our own martins and swallows and is not easily spotted or photographed because of this. I happen to have a few photos when I caught vast numbers of them roosting early morning on a telephone line… and I have witnessed them closer to the ground when in a feeding frenzy with our own birds capturing flying ants when they emerge after heavy rains… If they are flying from here to you, wow that is some journey, but because they are migrant visitors to our shores I have not had much interest in them, being more into out resident species… interesting post…

    Like

    • Sherri says:

      Oh I’m so glad you read this Bulldog, I was really hoping – expecting even!! – your knowledgeable reply, so thank you very much for all this great info, I’m lapping it up 😀
      I find all that you share fascinating and only adds to the mystery of them. When I was looking up more information about them (after finding out about their protected legal status) what really comes across is that we actually don’t know much about them, even the ‘experts’ are stumped. So interesting to know that they have tried to breed in Africa yet seem only to be able to do so when they return to the UK. I would love to see your photos of the ones you’ve managed to capture and how amazing to see them catching flying ants like that! Wow! There is s survey underway with tagging house martins and I would love to learn more about them 😀

      Like

  13. jenniferkmarsh says:

    Aw, Sherri! Pesky squatters they may be, keeping you awake in the summer months, but what beautiful squatters ^^
    I never knew house martins were endangered. That is a shame. Nor was I aware of that massive fine! Wow!
    We used to have house martins nest every year in the Barn, which was fine – and quite lovely, really – but the BIRD POO everywhere! My goodness. And also, they nearly took our heads off, swooping so low.

    But Sherri, when these little birds wake you early in the morning with their song, just think how much more beautiful a sound that is than hearing busy traffic zoom by your window. Birds are a musical little blessings.

    Like

    • Sherri says:

      Oh don’t worry Jenny Jen Jen, I do adore these beautiful birds indeed you can be sure of that 😀 I was stunned to learn of their endangered status and the repercussions of removing their nests (although how anyone would want to do that to any bird when they are breeding is beyond me).
      Haha…yes, they do swoop low don’t they? Still, great that they catch all those horrible insects!
      You are so right, I would have my house martins chattering away over traffic any day. What made the worst noise is my cats trying to get at them! If we close the door, my cat Maisy scratches at it, but think she has finally got the message that it won’t work…still, it can be very annoying to say the least!
      Ahh…the things we do for our pets and wildlife…still, I’m not complaining and thankful for all our lovely wild friends, and our ‘musical little blessings’ 😀

      Like

      • jenniferkmarsh says:

        Quite right, I don’t understand how anyone could possibly find it in themselves to destroy a nest while the birds were nesting! It must happen, though, for the fine to exist, which is a rather saddening thought.
        Ohh dear, silly kitty! I can imagine that got/gets irritating. When I had gerbils, my cats used to drive me nuts with the door I shut! Luckily they didn’t yowl and stuff, but just trying to keep them away from the tank was a nightmare.
        Ha, the things we do indeed! But still, rather that than not have them at all ^^

        Like

      • Sherri says:

        🙂 🙂 🙂

        Like

  14. Your house martins must be mischievous cousins of our robins that have decided all our car windows, windshields and side mirrors should be pooped on every morning. The robins arrive plump, round and full looking. They leave very thin, and our cars are a mess. One of our neighbors sat by his front window every morning for almost a week. He held his key-ring car alarm, and when the robins flew to his car, he pushed the button. It scared the robins away (to the next car) but it also irritated anyone who was trying to sleep in.
    Life with birds… 😉

    Like

    • Sherri says:

      Ahh…what a story Marylin, and yes, life with birds indeed! They are beautiful but not so much when they poop in places like this! How strange that the robins like to poop on the cars like that…glad the bird scarer worked but not that it disturbed all the neighbours…hopefully the robins got the message and didn’t return… 😉

      Like

  15. Nature everywhere! Great post Sherri, you’re very lucky to have been able to watch them close up but I can imagine the noise soon gets old 🙂 It’s sometimes surprising which birds are protected – like seagulls, which some people see as pests.

    Like

    • Sherri says:

      Yes, it is lovely to have them Andrea but yes, they make an unusual chattering sound when they are all together. You reminded me about seagulls, I had forgotten about them being protected too. I can’t imagine why, every time we go to Brighton they are taking over the place 😉

      Like

  16. Denise says:

    Bit of a mixed blessing. You are certainly very patient with your little friends, but it’s easy to see why as they are very handsome and it sounds like they need all the help they can get.

    Like

  17. How lovely that you get to watch this happy little family, but maybe you need to buy some bird nappies, to save your windows. 😀 I’m sure Maisy is so frustrated that she can’t get at these cheeky little interlopers. Happy birdwatching, Sherri. xx

    Like

    • Sherri says:

      Haha, now there’s a thought Sylvia…we could set up a business together, lol 🙂 Ahh…Maisy, yes, she is worse than Eddie and can’t wait to get to them. She comes alive when those naughty birds are taunting her like that, which I’m sure they do!!!
      Thank you Sylvia, certainly will do… 😀 xx

      Like

  18. Uzoma says:

    Cutie-cutie. These are beautiful photos, Sherri. It’s a bounty of blessings to see these birds come around.

    A blogger friend of mine, Seyi Sandra, introduced me to you blog. I have to say it’s very colorful.

    Like

    • Sherri says:

      Hello Uzoma! Thank you very much, so glad that you enjoyed these photos and yes, these beauties are a blessing indeed, even with all their ‘little ways’, haha 🙂
      I’m thrilled that you came over from dear Seyi’s blog! I do hope you enjoy what you find here at my summerhouse.
      Lovely to meet you 🙂

      Like

  19. I know exactly how you feel about your Martins. You love them but at the same time such a pain. The pain we found was worth it when the babies were ready to fly and they flew in formation at great speed around verandah of the house. Ours weren’t martins but swifts. We too destroyed their nest after they had left and they too returned hoping to find it intact. They rebuilt in exactly the same spot and are probably still doing so. Cheers Irene

    Like

  20. quirkybooks says:

    Welcome to the world of Vlogging. I just recently got my own http://www.youtube.com/user/quirkybooksTV channel and now I am getting a bit addicted to being a roving reporter. The video is good and so are the photos.

    Like

    • Sherri says:

      Hi Sandra, yes, I’ve been watching your vlogs on your site and enjoying them! Well done! I wish I could take credit for the video here but I got it off YouTube (the photos of course are all mine) as I wanted to show what house martins are like when they are nesting and what they sound like and this was the best I could find.
      I would have to hang out of my bedroom window to get video like this but I could still try from below although I wouldn’t get such a great view.
      Still, maybe I will think about vlogging for the future…the way forward 🙂

      Like

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