How to identify between Swallows, House Martins, Sand Martins and Swifts

How to tell the different between……………….

Swallows, House Martins, Sand Martins, and Swifts!

These are all summer migrants (visitors) arriving from a long journey from the southern hemisphere….often different parts of Africa in early April and May for the Swifts –the last to arrive.

Most people know the Swallows and House Martins soaring about our heads in the summer months and to some extent the Swifts screaming above us especially on warm summer evenings but the Sand Martin is not so well know!

Sand Martins take their name from their nesting habit   in sandy banks either at the coast….Minsmere in Suffolk is a good place to see them just after the Reception building or railway embankments and sand or gravel quarries. They are smaller than the House martins and have brown upper parts , if seen from above, less forked tail and a brown band across the White breast if seen from below.

The House martin is seen more in towns and villages and as their name suggests they commonly build their nest just under the eaves of a house.

When seen from above the house martin can be distinguished from the Swallow by a shorter, less pointed tail and a white rump standing out between the rest of the blue – black upper parts.  Adults have pure white under parts including chin and throat.

The old saying “one Swallow does not a summer make” is justified for although the swallow is popularly regarded as a harbinger of summer the first bird may appear as early as the beginning of March .

They make their nests on ledges and beams inside sheds, stables, other buildings and under bridges but are not generally found in cities! Like the sand and house martin they try to return to the same nesting site each summer.

The Swift is the bird that spends more of their life on the wing than any other! They can be seen hunting over a wide area and range of habitats from meadows, open water, woods to the skies above towns and cities searching for insects. Swifts are superb flyers and in wet weather will travel between 1000and 2000km (620-1240miles) into continental Europe to feed! In order to breed they require access to roof space and this is the only time they land.

Most people would have seen then at dusk flying around in a mob circling higher and higher “screaming “as they go to spend the night on the wing. The adult’s sickle- shaped wings and dark under parts distinguish them from swallows and martins.

Swallows fly gracefully, constantly swooping up and down, side to side catching insects on the wing.  From underneath you can see the long pointed tail and a russet throat.  Their upper parts are bluish–black.

Throughout the summer months when you hear   pleasant chirrups and twitters high up in the sky or the screaming excited call in early evening look up and enjoy our feathered friends whilst they are with us and see what you can identify!

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