House martins

Hels lives in an attic apartment, under the eaves of a lovely Georgian red brick building. You can lounge in the bath and look out the window to glorious views to the west and south-west over the roofs of the oldest part of Tunbridge Wells. It’s a view that you can get very fond of, and something that we will both miss.
Recently, as we’ve been soaking in the bath and soaking up the view (separately – keep your dirty thoughts to yourself!), we’ve had the feeling of being attacked as a pair of house martins fly directly toward the window, only to veer up vertically at the very last second. An external inspection of the building revealed a nest under the eaves immediately above the bathroom window, and recently we’ve heard loud cheepings from chicks within the nest. Since the chicks have hatched, the parents have been constantly coming to and fro, delivering flies for the chicks to eat. We can watch them flying over the rooftops in search of their prey.
One of the things that always impresses me is how martins manage to build their nests. In the case of our resident family, the nest has no support underneath, and is built at the apex of the gable. How do the birds begin to construct the nest? And how do they learn to build such a robust structure? Maybe they get contractors in.

2 Replies to “House martins”

  1. Bizarrely, I was thinking a similar thing today. And not just about the nest-building (I believe they use mud etc., and saliva in order to make a sticky “cement” that builds the body of the nest) but also how they find the right place to swoop into.

    Around me, there’s currently a lot of scaffolding around certain houses, and within the scaffolded terrace there are two houses with marten nests. Yet these birds fly unerringly between the scaffolding poles, and unerringly to the correct nest. How? There’s no visible last minute “oh shit! crosswind! crosswind!” type corrections, or an “oops, wrong house!” event. It’s bloody miraculous.

  2. > How do they learn to build…

    Start with nests on ledges, an almost talentless form of building. But some birds (accidentally, quirkily, probably to the annoyance of their parents) use a little mud to hold things together and in place. In places where it is safest to build well up and away from predators, the odds favor the best mud-and-twig builders, the ones who can therefore build in higher and windier and stranger places, up away from the beasties that eat their less talented relatives. Bad builders don’t reproduce. Eventually you’ve got mudmasters building under your eaves. Soon they’ll be pickpocketing your keys and taking your car to safer breeding grounds. Police will find the car, but with the glove box full of mud and twigs, and strange scratches on the steering wheel.

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