Squabbling Martins

This is just going to be a quick post about the Martins.

Fizz and I are spending most of our time out in the fields because all around us the fields are being cut now and we just want to enjoy the long grass and wildflowers while we have them, I will post about that in a bit.

There isn’t a great deal going on in the Martins nest but there are some funny things happening that I want to put on record.

Most of the time it is like this.


There is normally at least one bird in the nest and a lot of coming and going. I am guessing that they have got eggs but none hatched yet.

I don’t know how easy it will be to follow what is going on when they do hatch because unlike the Swallows this all happens indoors. I am expecting the chicks to become impatient as they get older and start putting their heads out, looking for mum and dad’s return. We will see.

House Martin

There is something strange going on, something that I don’t understand yet.

At this stage I would expect them to be paired up, nest established, eggs laid (The Swallows have got hatchlings) They should all pretty much know what’s going on and how things are going to pan out this summer.

There is quite a lot of squabbling going on around the nest.

I have had to slow this video right down to be clear about what is happening here, there are three birds involved and one of them is being pulled out of the nest by the nose.


I have seen this sort of action at least three times already but only caught it on film once.

House Martins are social birds and normally nest in small colonies of at least four or five nests. This is the only nest on this side of the house but there are Martins all around the farm and not very far away. They should get on well together.

If anyone knows what is going on then please feel free to comment.

I think that I heard the words, “You Hussy!” being cheeped but I lost the sound when I slowed down the video 🙂

19 thoughts on “Squabbling Martins”

  1. reminds me of a time when our male cat invited a girlfriend in to share our bed – then our female cat got home! Next thing we are woken up by all hell breaking loose in our bedroom…

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    1. Thank you Maureen 🙂 You think that it is two females fighting over a handsome male, probably one with good prospects but let’s face it, not very reliable? Could be.

      Without wanting to sink to anthropomorphism I did think that it looked like a “catfight.” Without meaning any disrespect to anyone I was reminded of one lady dragging another into the street by her hair, or some other part. When gentlemen fight it is usually more direct and things get smashed and there is normally a piano playing in the background. There was definitely no piano.

      None of that makes sense to me. The nest and eggs must belong to one female. You would know if you had laid an egg, surely. The combatants must be male.

      Things seem to have settled down. I watched Helen and ‘Arold (I am not going to call him Paris, that is a stupid name for any man. ‘Arold is a gentleman who just missed out on an education and made his money from his scrap yard but he is old school and a good fellow to have around in a ruck and he has high moral standards) Sorry, I digress..

      I watched Helen and ‘Arold playing with a feather this morning. Two birds flying together, the first had a large, white, curled feather in it’s beak. She dropped it and the second bird caught it in flight and then he dropped it and she caught it again and then they were gone from sight. It looked just like they were playing and I am trying to avoid anthropowotsitism.

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  2. I think kiwiskan is probably right. Female birds of many species mate with a good few males before they settle down as a pair, and most males do not raise their own children. It’s an evolutionary device that may have gone a little wrong here!

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    1. Thank you John 🙂 So if I am reading your interpretation correctly then you are saying the female obviously knows who laid the eggs but she is not sure who the father is and the two birds fighting are males who both want to lay claim to the family and it’s estates?

      The other incidents that I saw were very similar, in both of those cases neither bird was in the nest but as one settled by it another jumped on the first bird and pulled it away from the nest.

      Two males fighting over a female it hardly seems credible. I think her name must be Helen 🙂

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    1. Thank you Andrew 🙂 We are not ready for a new species of Martin. One of the most astonishing things that I do know about the House Martin is that today in June 2015, with all of the technology available to us, nobody knows where they go in the winter 🙂

      You probably know this but I say it for any other readers, in 1911 we were astonished to learn that a ringed Swallow was recovered in South Africa, bird ringing was in it’s infancy.

      We know that European Barn Swallows over winter in SA but also that some of them don’t go that far. We do not have a clue where the Martins go.

      In 2013 the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) announced a plan to fit birds with tags that would enable us to follow them. It is 2015 now and so I went to look at the results.

      They never did it. There were two other European groups that had already tried and the birds fitted didn’t come back. The tags were too big and they were affecting the bird’s survival rate. We simply are not clever enough yet to know where House Martins go in the winter.

      I have a plan to fit Fizz with prosthetic wings made of feathers and Bee’s wax. It will be fine but she must not fly too close to the sun 🙂

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      1. Well, How do you think ‘Arold would have reacted to coming home and finding a stranger settled down with his fair Helen? He might have took him by the nose…. I very much doubt that he would have reasoned with his rival. ‘Arold is cultured but he sometimes forgets and shouts, “Leave it out!” and then gets down to business. If they knew him, like we know him, they would love him for his faults 🙂

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  3. They are such nice looking little birds. So you have some big discord going on there, this is so interesting. I hope they get it settled and somebody takes care of the eggs/babies.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Nancy 🙂 I am not sure that it is discord. Fair Helen has the eggs in hand and I don’t think that there is much to worry about on that score. I think that she may be playing the boys and in fact has two partners. Obviously there would be some dispute about who got to sit next to her in the nest and things like that but all that they really have to do is bring food. It seems to be a happy nest. Helen is still there and I might really begin to like her. I like a bird with character 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great video capture, Colin. Maybe she changed her mind and picked some other guy?
    I hate it when they mow this time of year because I know there are nests still out in the fields. Breaks my heart. I know they have to do the haying, getting two cuts and all, but still. Only the crows benefit. 😦

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    1. Thank you Eliza 🙂 I do understand how you feel but I consider myself rather fortunate that the fields are being managed this way. My landlord is 86 years old and retired from farming now. He rents his fields to a local farmer and we don’t really have much say in what is done with them. He will either graze cattle or sheep but since I have been here he has grown them for silage through the summer months and grazed sheep in the winter. That is great. This land has always been pasture rather than crop land so it hasn’t been subjected to the pesticides that might have been used. Fizz and I get beautiful wildflower meadows to walk in all summer long. The first cut changes the nature of the fields, for a short time we are able to see where the ball went and don’t have to rely on Fizz’s nose so much but it also allows new flowers to see the light. The fields then become a sea of Clovers and Bird’s-foot Trefoil. The magic never stops. I will write about all of this when it happens but I do like the long grass and we just have to enjoy it for a few more days 🙂

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  5. As an alternative theory, sometimes I have heard of partnerless females or females who have lost their chicks trying to take over the nests of others. Or trying to steal nesting space when few suitable nesting sites are available. But you may well be right about the two males fighting.

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    1. Thank you Emily 🙂 I think that time is going to tell on this one. Yours is an interesting idea and avoids a lot of my story telling. There is no shortage of nesting space, in fact I am surprised that this nest is alone under the eaves. Not having eggs at this time of year wouldn’t really be a disaster either, House Martins can have two broods during the summer and sometimes three, so there is still plenty of time for laying. A jealous female is a possibility and if that is the case then I would expect the discord to end now. There is a well recorded issue of House Sparrows attacking Martins nests and taking them over, so I guess that other Martins could be doing it as well. We will have to wait and see what happens next.

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  6. This is so interesting! Perhaps it is an unattached female who wants some eggs of her own and was trying her luck. The feather passing game could be a ritual, like when raptor mates pass food to each other in flight. Only guessing! I have no idea really.

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    1. Thank you Clare 🙂 Interesting indeed. When the nest was being constructed there were more than two birds involved, I thought at the time that there was more than one nest being made. Perhaps our female is trying to manage more than one partner. Why not? At this time of year all that the male has to do is bring food and why not have two suppliers? I don’t know if this happens in nature but it would be very interesting to see three adult birds emerge from the nest. I shall get the camera back out there 🙂

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