Posted by George Morrison

House Martin                   Word on the Week                     8th July 2023.

It happened again last Thursday.   The conditions were just right.   Humid, gentle rain and a gusting breeze.   The sky was leaden and the birds were hopping!    It was a Martins food fest like no other.   It lasted for ages!

The wind was ensuring a constant supply of aphids and flies were blown out of the trees and into the path of the cavorting Martins.    The birds had lost all fear of humans and darted past my head at a speed of 36 feet per second.

None flew in straight lines but cavorted about seeking food, their mouths wide open and their small triangular wings beating at just over 5 beats per second.   The mouth has a wide gape which the bird used to scoop up the food in flight.   It even drinks in flight skimming the surface of a pool of water.  

The short legs and feet are feathered white like the other underparts.    The bird cannot easily take off from level ground that is why it perches on houses and gets its name.    Its favourite nesting place is under the eaves.   The nest is built of soft mud which is plastered into a half sphere against the building with a small entrance hole at the top.    It is lined with moss and feathers and they may lay two or three broods each year.

It has a weak but melodic chirruping twitter which during the food fest was reduced to a single ‘tseep’ presumably because their mouth was full!   One thing which distinguishes them from their near relation, the swallow, is more fluttering punctuated by short periods of gliding when they look like the paper aeroplanes we made in school!

Like the swallow they leave us late September having spent 5 months in Ireland.   The head South, following the food, and end up wintering in sub- Saharan Africa.   

William Shakespeare was clearly describing the house martin when Banquo brings the nests and birds to the attention of Duncan at Macbeth’s castle, Inverness.    Martins also appear in a coat of arms being part of the heraldic emblems on the shield.   Their near relation, the swallow, is mentioned in Scripture Psalm 84 verses 1 to 3. 

How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!   My soul longs, yes, faints

for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.

Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself,

where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.

May we too long for the living God as we encounter Him in creation and in Jesus in redemption.