Does anything take over house martin nests?

BBC Wildlife contributor Mike Toms answers your wild question.

House martin nest

House martin nest © Arterra / Getty


Individual house martin nests may be used many times over, both for multiple breeding attempts within a breeding season or across years.

While both tawny owls and great spotted woodpeckers may break the nests open to get at the chicks within, only house sparrows regularly take over the abodes for their own use.

Since both species are colonial in habits, the proportion of nests occupied by house sparrows within a martin colony can be high, sometimes reaching 60 per cent. Of course, since house martin nests can last for several seasons, the house sparrows will occupy empty nests as well as forcibly evict the sitting tenants.

Such behaviour isn’t new, with naturalist Gilbert White noting the behaviour as early as 1774, when a greater number of house martins still used natural sites on cliff faces, rock clefts and tree cavities.


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