HOUSE MARTIN (Delichon urbica)
Hirondelle de fenêtre
Like its close relative the Barn Swallow the House Martin is another species associated with human habitation. Originally a cliff-dwelling species it has adopted the artificial "cliffs" that are the outside walls of man-made buildings. The House Martin requires an artificial roof over its nest and so usually builds underneath the ledge created by a roof or a window over-hang (which I guess is where the French name came from).
Unlike the Barn Swallow it lives in colonies which can vary from 2-4 nests up to 30 or more - often placed very close to each other. It feeds on flying insects and builds its nests with mud, so it is very fond of farms where both can be found in abundance. It arrives from Africa in early April, and with its glossy blue-black plumage and white underparts makes me think of a dapper little chap in a tuxedo !
Its normal call is a rather rude sounding "ffrrrrt" noise, but it also has a rather nice fruity little song. Both can be heard in this sequence, recorded at a mountain farm, you can hear the cow bells in the background and at the end of the piece the dairyman comes walking out of the cheese dairy whistling aimlessly as he goes about his duties:
There are many good ecological reasons for colonial living in birds, safety in numbers being one of them, and House Martins tend to sweep in and out of their colonies together in loose flocks, hence in these recordings you are listening to several birds calling at the same time. There are few threats to House Martins, but one of them is having your nest taken over by a sparrow, here at a colony in Genolier a couple of House Sparrows can be heard "chirruping" away and getting excited as they explore around the House Martin nests, several of the original owners are flying in and out to the nests giving out their high-pitched shrieking alarm calls to try and drive the sparrows away:
Although colonial, House Martins still defend their own nests and the immediate few centimetres of "territory" around it - probably to stop other males from copulating their all too willing partners (an activity which we learn is more frequent in the bird world than once supposed). To defend their patch and their mate, the males hang off the side of the nest and sing vociferously at all incoming males, at this colony under a large overhanging roof you can hear one male singing in this way and its song sounds even richer and more fruity the way it echoes off the roof and walls of this large Swiss house: