The Common house martin, belonging to genus Delichon, is a migratory bird species of the swallow family. It is also known as Northern house martin in some of its native ranges; and in Europe, it is called House martin. It was first described in Systema Naturae in 1758 by Linnaeus as Hirundo urbica. Later in 1854, it was placed in Delichon by Frederic Moore and Thomas Horsfield.
Species: D. urbicum
The scientific name for Common house martin is Delichon urbicum.
It has two recognized subspecies. Delichon urbicum is its western subspecies, which is also the nominate subspecies. And, its eastern subspecies is Delichon urbicum lagopodum (described in 1811 by German zoologist and botanist Peter Simon Pallas).
Adult individuals from the nominate species are approximately 13 centimetres in length, and its wingspan is 26 to 29 centimetres. Their average weight is 18 grams. The colours of its plumage are steel-blue on the upper part and white on the underpart. The colour of the upper part of its wings are brown and underpart of wings are white.
They possess short white legs, with the featherless part being pink. They have a small black bill and its eyes are brown. Sexual dimorphism is not present in this bird. The eastern subspecies D. u. Lagopodum differs a bit from the nominate subspecies as its white rump goes much further onto its tail.
This bird prefers to inhabit coastal cliffs, open areas with low vegetation, pasture, meadows, farming lands as well as urban and suburban areas.
In fact, they are a lot more urban compared to Barn swallow and they often nest in the city if they find clean air. In Europe, this species can be seen in places that are 2000 meters above sea-level. In Asia, they inhabit areas which are 4500 meters above the sea-level.
The nominate subspecies Delichon urbicum breeds throughout temperate regions of Eurasia. Their range extends to the Yenisei River and central Mongolia in the east, and towards Morocco, northern Algeria and Tunisia in the west. They migrate to sub-Saharan Africa in winter.
Delichon urbicum lagopodum’s breeding range extends to Kolyma to the Yenisei in the east and goes all the way to northern China and northern Mongolia in the south. They spent the winter in south-east Asia and the southern parts of China.
The Common house martin forages in groups, and even with other bird species. They have a tendency to hunt at a place which is a little far from their nest – usually 2 kilometers. They perch on vegetation and rocks. They also hunt on the ground. During migration, they travel in daylight. Extreme or unfavorable weather is a great challenge when it comes to migration. This bird generally nests in cliff or cave. Even thought cliff-nesting colonies still exist, yet nests made in human-made structures are quite common these days. This species is a swift flier with the ability to perform sudden turning and banking. They can spiral and over when going after a flying insect.
Common house martins come back to its breeding grounds in April or May. Nest building starts in either late March or late June, depending on the range and habitat. The nest is generally a convex type, neat cup with a small opening on its top. Both male and female take part in nest building. They line the nest with grass or soft materials. Since they breed in the colony, the nests of different pairs stay in contact with each other. A breeding colony size of ten nests is quite common, but researchers have recorded thousands.
Females lay 4 – 5 white colored eggs that are around 1.9 × 1.33 centimeters in size, with an average weight of 1.7 grams. Most of the incubation is done by the female, and this process continues for 14 to 17 days. Newly born chicks are altricial. They require 20 to 33 days to be able to leave the nest. The fledgelings stay with its parents, and also fed by them for another week before they become independent. As the season passes, the independent juveniles from different breeding pairs congregate on housetops or tree branches in large numbers.
This bird breed twice a year. Following first brood, they reuse (and often repair) the nest in order to have another brood in that same year and also in subsequent years. In some years, there is the third brood, but the nestlings are often left to starve.
Their feeding is quite similar to that of other aerial insectivores. In breeding areas, they primarily feed on aphids and flies. In their wintering grounds, they feed on flying insects.
Their average lifespan is around five years. However, some individuals have been recorded to have a lifespan of 10 and 14 years.
Common house martins are quite noisy, especially at the breeding colonies. Male produce soft, melodious chirps-like rolling “krree” calls throughout the year. They also produce different squeaky sounds at their wintering grounds.
With their skilful flight, they are able to evade most of its predators. At times, they are hunted by Eurasian hobby and other birds of prey. They are also affected by external fleas and internal parasites.
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has kept Common house martin in the ‘Least concern’ category.
The genus name ‘Delichon’ has come from Ancient Greek, in which it means ‘swallow’. And, the species name ‘urbicum’ comes from Latin, in which it means ‘of the town.’
In Africa, Common house martins are often confused with the Gray rumped swallow (i.e. Pseudhirundo griseopyga), but it can be easily identified by its off-white underparts, grey rump and a long tail, which is deeply forked.
The average wingbeat of this bird stands at 5.3 beats/second, which is faster than the wingbeat of Barn swallow averaging 4.4 beats each second.
In 1974, thousands of Common house martins were found dead in the Swiss Alps and its surrounding areas as the birds were caught by low temperature and heavy snowfall during migration.
Breeding pairs remain for life, but extra-pair mating is common, making Common house martins genetically polygamous, even though they are socially monogamous. And, this species is known to hybridize with the Barn swallow.
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