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16th Mar Help needed for House Martins

Posted 16 Mar 2016

Scientists at the BTO are worried about the House Martin (Delichon urbicum),  a summer visitor to the UK,  which builds a circular nest under the eaves of houses and other buildings, using around a thousand beakfuls of mud. It is in rapid decline in some parts of the UK, and is ‘Amber-listed’ in the list of Birds of Conservation Concern, compiled by the country’s leading conservation agencies. However, in spite of the strong decline overall, the House Martin is currently increasing in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The BTO is undertaking a two-year research project, funded by BTO members and supporters through an appeal, to provide scientific evidence about House Martins to identify why they are in trouble, and hence start to look for solutions. In 2015, the first part of this research was to carry out a nationwide survey in order to gather some baseline information and to produce a robust population estimate for the species. 

 This summer, a brand new, yet complementary, House Martin Survey will be carried out , to investigate the timing of breeding and the number of broods raised, and how this varies across the UK. We hope that this information will help us discover why trends are positive in some parts of the UK, and that this will in turn help us pinpoint the reasons for problems elsewhere.

The BTO are looking for volunteers who are able to observe a nest (or a group of nests) for a few minutes, approximately once a week, throughout the breeding season (which can last from April to September). Volunteers do not need to be able to look inside the nests, as all observations can be made from ground level (or from another vantage point where the nests can be safely viewed without disturbing the birds). After recording a small amount of information about the site on their first visit, on each subsequent visit volunteers will simply need to record the condition of each nest and what activity is taking place at the nest. 

Volunteers are free to pick their own study site, which can be anywhere where House Martins are nesting.  The survey is therefore ideal for those who have House Martins nesting on or near their home or place of work, but nests elsewhere can be studied provided they can be visited regularly for the whole breeding season. 

 The survey launches on 17th March, when volunteers will be able to register for the survey via the BTO House Martin Survey pages , and the first survey visits should be carried out in the first half of April. Further information about the survey is available on their website.


by Simon Byland