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House Martins using Model 30 Swift boxes

Graham used to live above the Community Shop at Abbotts Ann where we installed 16 new Swift boxes in May last year which you can read about here. I was encouraged on a recent visit to see nine Swifts flying low and screaming past the boxes so that bodes well for occupation soon I think.

Graham and Sophie have now moved to a house just north of Stockbridge in the Test Valley and are woken in the mornings by the calls of Cuckoos. The area is rich in birdlife and one of the attractions of the house was that it had House Martins nesting under the eaves. Swifts also nest close by, and six or more are to be seen daily flying close by the house (early June 2023). The House Martin cups suffer from the depredations of the boisterous House Sparrows over the winter and so all usually have to be rebuilt by the martins in the spring. With climate change providing us with a recent run of dry springs and therefore a lack of mud for nest-building (at least not this year!) House Martins have been suffering here in SE England and the population as a whole seems to be moving north and west in the country as a result. In order to provide them a more reliable home and hopefully secure the future of this colony, Graham bought five double House Martin cups from Paul Stevens in Sussex who hand-makes them. He has reduced the size of the openings to 20/21mm high and has found that this prevents access to the sparrows whilst enabling the House Martins to continue undeterred.

Graham was keen to also put up Swift boxes on the front of the house to try and help the small local colony, so on 11 May two double Model 30 boxes were installed along with the five double HM cups (two on the front and three on the rear).

By the end of May, three of the four cups on the front were occupied by House Martin – and also, remarkably, two of the Swifts boxes. Although Dr Thais Martins has recorded House Martins using Swift bricks on the Duchy Estate in Newquay and Truro in Cornwall and at Poundbury in Dorset, this is the first time we have heard of them using Swift boxes. The birds had reduced the size of the openings with beakfuls of mud as can be seen here.

And in between the two Swift boxes, House Martins had started to build a nest(s) by sticking a line of mud to the wall and Graham tells us that a pair have taken to roosting on this overnight.

Watch this space for more updates. It will be interesting to see how long it is before the new nest cups on the rear of the house are occupied – there were several natural nests here last year that were ‘downed’ by the sparrows last winter and have not yet been rebuilt.

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