I saw my first House Martin this morning, swooping upwards in front of my window to check out the nest it left behind last Autumn. That bubbling chatter, the acrobatic flight on sickle-shaped wings, and that lovely white throat must make it one of the most charming birds to grace our skies.
Normally at the end of each Autumn, once the Martins are all safely away to Africa, I knock down the empty nests from the eaves of the house. It sounds harsh to make them rebuild each year but I once heard some research quoted on a radio programme that said this helped to prevent a build-up of parasites. The birds bring parasites with them of course but if they build a new nest each time then at least the birds are not inheriting anything from last year as well.
Last year I did not destroy any nests however due to a growing colony of House Sparrows that have gradually colonised previous Martin nests. This has taught me the value of putting up bird boxes under the eaves specifically for the sparrows. Many people in the UK might be surprised to hear that the House Sparrow is actually on the RSPB red list of endangered birds. Often the target of teenage boys with airguns and always a target for the domestic cat, this friendly and companionable little bird now needs all the help it can get. To quote the RSPB :
Monitoring suggests a severe decline in the UK house sparrow population, recently estimated as dropping by 71 per cent between 1977 and 2008 with substantial declines in both rural and urban populations.
So those cheeky, noisy little sparrows we so often take for granted are in fact in real decline. They may not have the grace and panache of a swooping House Martin or Swallow, but they also don’t leave at the end of summer. Mine have kept me company all winter, hopping about on the ledge outside my window. And I am more than happy for them to be there.