The return of the familiar House Martin is one of the highlights of spring. But will it be a familiar sight for future generations? In recent years, the numbers breeding in the UK have fallen by two-thirds, leading to the species being amber listed as a bird of conservation concern and in need of some help.
Although the decline hasn’t been quite as severe in Wales as it has been in England, we’ve also seen a substantial drop in numbers here too. The species was confirmed as breeding in only 98 tetrads in East Glamorgan between 2007-11, down from 173 tetrads between 1984-89 – that’s a drop of 43% (source: East Glamorgan Bird Atlas).
This recent decline prompted the BTO to launch a two- year research project which began in 2015, funded by BTO members and supporters through an appeal, to provide scientific evidence about House Martins to identify why they are in trouble, and hence start to look for solutions.
The survey in 2015: just how many House Martins are there in the UK?
In 2015, volunteers were asked to survey random i.e. pre-selected 1-km squares throughout the UK in order to produce a robust population estimate to monitor future changes. The survey proved popular amongst birders in East Glamorgan with 25 counters volunteering to search for, and count House Martin nests, in 28 1-kms squares in our region.
The survey in 2016: when do House Martins start breeding and how many broods do they have?
This summer, a brand new, yet complementary, House Martin Survey will be carried out to investigate the timing of breeding and the number of broods raised, and how this varies across the UK. We hope that this information will help us discover why trends are positive in some parts of the UK, and that this will in turn help us pinpoint the reasons for problems elsewhere.
This summer, you choose where you monitor House Martin nests
The BTO is looking for volunteers who are able to observe a nest (or a group of nests) for a few minutes, approximately once a week, throughout the breeding season (which can last from April to September). Volunteers do not need to be able to look inside the nests, as all observations can be made from ground level (or from another vantage point where the nests can be safely viewed without disturbing the birds). After recording a small amount of information about the site on their first visit, on each subsequent visit volunteers will simply need to record the condition of each nest and what activity is taking place at the nest.
Volunteers are free to pick their own study site, which can be anywhere where House Martins are nesting. The survey is therefore ideal for those who have House Martins nesting on or near their home or place of work, but nests elsewhere can be studied provided they can be visited regularly for the whole breeding season.
The survey launches today (17th March), when volunteers will be able to register for the survey via the BTO House Martin Survey pages, and the first survey visits should be carried out in the first half of April. If you’re interested (and why wouldn’t you be!), further information about the survey is available on the BTO House Martin website.