This week’s theme for the Weekly Photo Challenge is ‘Twist’.
‘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.
‘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:
You can see evidence of the old nests beneath the wooden eaves just above our bedroom window.
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.