House Martins

These little beauties all came to pick at the crumbs left by fellow bank holiday revellers. I was on the seafront at Hornsea, resting my weary bones after a meander on the wet and glorious beach. As I sat quietly, the martins waited until the noisy passers by had cleared off, then came in force to clean up behind them.

I was lucky enough to see one of their nesting spots, inside an old, brick bus shelter on the Esplanade. The little mud  pod is so tiny you can hardly believe a family is raised in there, but we regularly saw mum and dad flying in and out with delectables for the babies.

House martins are a type of swallow, and unlike their cousins, the swifts, aren’t constantly on the wing, but can be seen resting, in particular on man made structures such as telephone wires and rooftops. Folklore has it that Noah granted the martins permission to use human housing as their own, for being such a ‘useful’ bird, however prior to modern housing, martins built their nests on cliffs and crags.

There are many superstitions involving luck and martins or other swallows. A hunter may wear the tail of the first Martin of the year on his cap to ensure a successful hunt; an unnecessarily cruel tradition, methinks! Three martins landing on your roof is a sign of good fortune. A German superstition holds that if you wash your face immediately after seeing the first martin or swallow of the year, you won’t get sunburnt that year. Still, best keep the factor 30 handy just in case…

As we approach autumn, we will have to say goodbye to our migratory visitors soon, but look out for them again next spring. Swifts are the ones who are always in flight, ever moving. Swallows have the red breast, in English folklore a symbol of devil’s blood which becomes apparent in the birds’ nature if you try to disturb their nests! But martins are the ones who share our houses, sit companionably on telegraph poles and pub signs, and remind us we are lucky to have these visitors from foreign climes.

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