House Martin Diary - 2006


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19 August - A belated start to my record of this year's second brood for the House Martins.

There are no flocks of Swifts and Martins about now. However, when we returned from Cornwall on 9 August I noticed a Martin leave the right-hand nestbox. Over the next few days I saw occasional comings and goings and it soon became obvious that there was another brood in the nest that had already been used this year.

Since that time I have been pre-occupied with other things and it was only today that I saw that they were busy feeding chicks without having to enter the nest.


I spent about 40 minutes watching them this afternoon, and during that time I saw 13 visits, with the adult entering the nest briefly on just one occasion. The insects must have been very small because I couldn't see any bits protruding from their beaks as they arrived.

Although the chicks were extremely vocal, there was no sign of any appearing at the entrance.

While I was outside I couldn't see any other Martins in the sky overhead.


23 August - Yesterday, Sheila caught a glimpse of the chicks for the first time. I couldn't get to watch them until today, and as this picture shows, there are at least two youngsters in the nest.

Again, I watched for around 40 minutes, during which time I saw just 5 visits, probably reflecting the cool, cloudy conditions. I did count five Martins flying together, so there are still a few others in the area.


This second brood is significantly early than last year's. Then, the chicks had still not appeared before we headed for Cornwall on the 11th September. This time we may just see them fledge before heading that way.


31 August - The chicks seem to be making good progress, with one or two at the entrance nearly continuously throughout the day.

I sent a couple of hours watching them late this afternoon. There was a group of up to fifteen adults wheeling about, high overhead, and it was fascinating to see them interacting with each other, with pairs often coming together momentarily. Was this play, bonding, or competition for some insect?


Then, every so often, several would descend to just above the chimney pots and fly around before one swooped down and under the eves to feed a chick.





Again, I didn't manage to get any photographs showing the insects that were being delivered.




Finally, a shot of a rear end, showing how much the tail feathers have developed.

Once the Martins have left, the top of the porch over our front door is going to need a good clean to remove the dropping from this year's two broods! Fortunately it has a stainless steel covering which will make things easier.


I have seen no activity at all so far in the camera-equipped nest, but tomorrow I may get around to setting up the webcam to watch the outside of the nest during the last stages of this brood.


3 September - No webcam so far - I'm afraid that technical problems have got in the way. I'm not getting any images from the internal nestbox camera, and I do not want to check it our until the Martins have left in case I disturb them. Also, the old laptop is being a bit stubborn - I shall try again tomorrow to get that working to show the external camera images on line.

I spent time watching the nest this afternoon. It was warm and largely sunny, and a great reason to relax for a while.

For much of the time there were two chicks at the entrance, looking around continuously, sometimes trying to peck at flies that flew too close to the nest, and then opening their beaks wide to greet an approaching parent.

Unfortunately, today's images are a bit shaky, probably thanks to the rather breezy conditions.



During the hour and a half that I watched, there were 17 deliveries of insects.

These two images, taken within half a minute of each other, show what I assume are the two parents.




This is another image of the bird on the right, taken during another visit, showing a set of pretty ragged tail feathers.





Finally, on the basis of what goes in must come out (!) a faecal sac heads for the porch roof.




6 September - From what I can tell, everything was as in the previous entry until the late afternoon when I noticed that a Martin was approaching the middle nestbox. I went outside and saw a group of five Martins flying close to the house and making frequent approaches to the nests.


I set my camera up just in time to see one of them land at the entrance to the middle nest.



It was having some difficulty entering the box, and as it struggled, adults made numerous close passes behind it,



as if to encourage it to go in.


Once it had disappeared inside, one of the adults inspected the left-hand box a couple of times, but I didn't see any birds entering it.

The burst of activity ceased after a few minutes



After a short break, a parent was back with food for one of the chicks in the right-hand nest.



It was a while longer before a head appeared at the entrance of the middle box, the appearance of the beak confirming that it was a fledgling.


This was confirmed further when a parent arrived to feed it.



During the hour and a half that I watched, food was brought some 23 times, although the youngster in the middle nest was the recipient of just 3 of those deliveries.


As I didn't see it leave the right-hand nest, I can only surmise that fledging has begun. If this is the case then it is happening nearly a month earlier than last year. I shall have to keep an eye on the Martins tomorrow.

Over the last couple of nights we've had several crane-flies come into the house. They were the first ones I've seen here this summer, and I don't recall seeing either the Great Tits or the House Martins feed any to their young earlier in the year. However, while Brett Westwood was here (see garden diary) we saw the legs of one as a chick endeavoured to swallow it.

While I watched the nests, I also took the time to try and count the Martins that were flying over us. Most of the time I could see no more than about 15, the maximum number seen on previous occasions. However, for a brief period the number swelled to over thirty. Was this a migrating group just passing through?


7 September - It seems that the youngster in the middle box yesterday is one of the family, and it is this one that has made the only flight today, ending up in the left-hand box by the end of the morning and staying there for the remainder of the day.

I set up my camera for just half an hour, late this afternoon, and in that time saw just five visits (two to the left, three to the right).


At least one of the right-hand chicks looks as though it is almost ready to fly, and this evening I've seen it lean out quite a long way, so I wouldn't be surprised to be reporting on progress tomorrow.

While outside I didn't see any large groups of Martins - the maximum number spotted was just five today.


8 September - Another sunny, but cooler day has seen another chick fledge, and a touch of musical boxes during the day!


By 9am there was a chick looking out of each of the three nestboxes. It stayed that way for a while before the two that had already flown started to practice their new skills again again.




Not every trip out was embarked on with confidence. Here, the last chick looks on as a sibling flies past.




At one time as they popped in and out of the nest I wondered if there were in fact three fledglings but I haven't been able to confirm that.

For much of the afternoon things settled down with the two 'fliers' sharing the left-hand nest with the parents bringing food when not with the four or five other Martins that seemed to be in the skies over us.


This evening there was another period of coming and going, with the last nestling staying put again, and the last time I checked there was a face at each entrance again!



9 September - After a bout of activity by the fledglings this morning, for much of the day the face of the one remaining chick has presented a lonely sight as it looks out of the right-hand nest.

With no other residents to interact with, it has been very quiet,



and the only time it becomes noisy is when it sees an adult fly low enough to be seen from its position under the eves - that usually means food is about to be served!

I've seen no sign of it being tempted to leave as yet, but I don't expect it to stay in the nest much longer.



19 September - The last of the chicks has finally fledged! On the first (if only slightly) misty morning of Autumn there were heads looking out of the left and right nests by 7am. At just before 8.15am the youngster in the left-hand nest decided to leave and the last chick decided to follow.


No other birds emerged, and for the rest of the day, apart from two brief periods of activity during the late morning, the nest boxes have remained empty.

This afternoon I can see no Martins in the skies overhead for the first time this Summer. I'll be watching again this evening in case any members of the family return to roost, but it looks as though the Martins' nesting is over for another year.

Click on the images to see larger versions -



2006 Nestbox Diary Index.