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Sand Martin

From Opus

Revision as of 07:45, 7 July 2017 by Deliatodd-18346 (Talk | contribs)

Alternative names: Collared Sand Martin; Bank Swallow

Photo by bo shaheen Kuwait
Riparia riparia



Length 12-13 cm

  • Dull earthy-brown upperparts
  • White below
  • Brown breast band
  • Shallow forked tail
  • Bill and legs are blackish-brown

Sexes similar
Juveniles: tertials and upper wing coverts have pale fringes; breast band is less distinct.

Similar Species

Photo by MahslebMinsmere, U.K., April 2016
Photo by Mahsleb
Minsmere, U.K., April 2016

The Eurasian Crag Martin is larger and flies more slowly.

Common Swifts appear all dark and very sickle or boomerang-shaped and are comparatively large compared to the three hirundines below.

Barn Swallows are mostly pale from below and all dark above, has much longer tail streamers, a black breast and red throat.

Common House Martin are very white below and dark from above, with much shorter, dark tail, and a prominent white rump

Sand Martin are pale from below with a dark throat band, but noticeably brown-coloured.

There is a difference in the flying style too: House martin flight is more fluttery than a Barn Swallow which is faster, more direct and swooping, while Sand Martin are more fluttery still, and Common Swift are very fast and look somewhat stiff-winged.

Photo by Cristian MihaiFundulea, Romania, June 2016
Photo by Cristian Mihai
Fundulea, Romania, June 2016

Finally, the calls are all quite distinct: swift calls are quite loud and screeching, while swallows are more twittery and varied. House martin and Sand Martin calls are quite similar, less sustained than swallows possibly, and more chirpy and clipped, with sand martin being slightly scratchier or hoarse sounding.


Breeds in most of the northern hemisphere, wintering to Africa, southern Asia and South America.


Pale Sand Martin has been split from the present species.


Photo by HelenBNest burrows along the Elbow River, Weaselhead, Calgary, Canada, June 2004
Photo by HelenB
Nest burrows along the Elbow River, Weaselhead, Calgary, Canada, June 2004

Five to six subspecies are recognized:[1]

  • R. r. riparia: breeds widely in Holarctic regions; winters in the tropics
  • R. r. ijimae: Kamchatka Peninsula and Kuril Island to Amur River and Hokkaido
  • R. r. shelleyi: Lower Egypt and Suez Canal region
  • R. r. eilata: southern Israel
  • R. r. innominata: south-eastern Kazakhstan; may winter in Africa or southern Asia

these are widely recognized - taczanowskii only by some authorities.


Riverbanks, lakesides and sandpit, often seen in numbers hunting insects in low flight over lakes and rivers. Prior to and during migration they roost communally in large reedbeds



The diet includes insects, such as flies and spiders that are caught in flight.


Breeds colonially in vertical sandy or earth banks, e.g. in gravel-pits and river banks, where nest is excavated (often a good metre horizontally into the earth).

The nest burrow is built by both parents; the chamber being lined with plant material and feathers. The eggs are white, and shiny. Incubation and care of the young is carried out by both parents.


Listen in an external program


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2016. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: v2016, with updates to August 2016. Downloaded from
  2. Collins Pocket Guide to British Birds 1966
  3. Collins Field Guide 5th Edition
  4. Collins Bird Guide ISBN 0 00 219728 6
  5. British Garden Birds
  6. BF Member observations

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