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Common House Martin - BirdForum Opus

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Alternative names: House Martin; Northern House Martin

Photo by Raydes
Petra, Lesvos, Greece
Delichon urbicum

Delichon urbica


13–14 cm

  • Blue black upperparts with a dark blue sheen
  • White rump
  • Longest upper tail coverts are wholly black or are only pale at the bases
  • White throat, breast, flanks and undertail
  • Axillaries are brownish-grey
Photo by IanF
July, Cowpen Bewley Woodland Park, Billingham, Cleveland, UK

Similar Species

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, with a dark (and reddish) throat/head and long, dark tail streamers.

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.

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


Photo by BrianWH
Wales, UK, July 2014

Widespread and sometimes common, recent evidence of decline.



There are 3 subspecies[1]:

  • D. u. urbicum:
  • D. u. meridionale:
  • D. u. lagopodum:


Aerial. Breeds in towns and rural areas.


House Martin nest with juveniles about to fledge
Photo by BrianWH
Wales, July 2014


Gregarious, breeding colonially on buildings, under eaves and sometimes in cliffs. Nest of mud.


Almost entirely flying insects.



  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, B.L. Sullivan, C. L. Wood, and D. Roberson. 2013. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: Version 6.8., with updates to August 2013. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Collins Pocket Guide to British Birds 1966
  3. BF Member observations

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