I began my house martin survey in 2015 and each year try to look around the once welcoming fishing village for signs of their nests. Of course now Cabanas is more of a tourist village by the Ria Formosa and the buildings are less kind for the ledges needed. Once there were more house martins on the ‘frontline’ but now most nests have been deterred or destroyed. In one place above various shops and entrances to the small indoor shopping area there were 35. This year there are about 5.
However behind the Spa shop there is a good stretch and the birds can build their mud nests there and avoid the complaints of a mess as a long platform was put up to protect the ground from the delicacies of house martin poo.
The art of building a nest must somehow be passed on between the generations. Proximity to water and mud is important. Each beakful is carefully positioned ready to stick to the next.
House martins seem to like to choose the same spots and just refurbishing a nest site will mean that they can get on with the business of mating and laying the eggs from March.
High winds can delay their arrival and the parents to be will be pretty exhausted by the thousands of miles they have flown across Africa. So having to rebuild from scratch or search for another site delays their ability to breed. However many of the parents will try again for a second brood. If these can fledge and build up reserves before the end of September they might make the long journey back.
From the RSPB and SEO in Spain there are requests to help these birds by keeping nest sites in situ over the winter. Of course it is illegal to destroy any nest that is in use or being built.
This year in Cabanas I found 100 nest sites in the Spring. The school still provides for many under the eaves and also in the older part of town there are more. The town council appears to have an interesting extra wall front behind which there were quite a few.
But all the new builds seem very unfriendly to these Spring visitors. In our ‘beco’ there have always been a small community and the trad design of our flats does provide the ledging. But many are prevented from returning by netting and plastic hanging down. More unsightly than the nests.
Song of a small golondrina or andorinha ( spanish/ portuguese)
Dear humans, please leave our nests alone,
And like you
We do like to be beside this seaside.
The sand and tides turning help us out
With just the right consistency of mud
We build our homes close to the sea
Where we can almost have food for free
So many insects to shout out about
Making us and our young strong
And ready for the long flight back.
High above the many folk below
May sometimes stand and stare
In a kind of wonder at our flight
But know too little of who we are
And why we have to come so far.
From June through July and August the first broods gather on the phone wires as if at school all in a line and getting ready for the flight of their life.
From past reading there is little known about where these birds go back to in Africa and house martins might still be too small for satellite tracking.
We believe they flock together to fly together across the Sahara but we do not know if the parent birds lead the way.
Here’s to the wonderful house martins of Cabanas de Tavira and the joy they bring some of us. I only wish more people would notice these incredible birds and make a stand for their presence here among the tourists.
* We think here in Spain and Portugal that golondrina or andorinha are used for both swallows and house martins. But in Latin – Delichon urbicum
Young house martins gathering in Cabanas de Tavira 2020.
Thanks too to Katharine Otto for making the first move to try and post by phone. This is my first attempt too. So apologies for not many photos but some recent ones from the phone! And oh, some more added from my library!
More on the survey later in the year. At present we await family for a holiday and have been enjoying nights out in Tavira with the free concerts. The band last night called SAL formed in the pandemic and this is their first year of playing live concerts. It is with great relief to find some of the normality and conviviality back again in our lives.