Sand Martin

Scientific name: Riparia riparia

Did you know: Sand Martins, one of the smallest European swallows, can travel over 4,000 km between the UK and their wintering locations in Africa!

What Do Sand Martins Look Like? (how to identify them)

Sand Martins, the tiniest members of the European hirundines family, are easily recognised by their dark brown upper parts and underwings. These birds contrast sharply with their pale underparts, which are uniquely marked by a distinct dark chest stripe. 

Agile in flight, especially over water, you can also spot them perched on overhead wires or branches.

Differences Between Male And Female Sand Martins

Male and female Sand Martins are quite similar in appearance, but keen observers may note subtle differences. Males generally have a slightly more pronounced chest stripe and darker back, while females may have a more muted colouring.

What Do Sand Martins Eat?

These nimble fliers primarily feast on invertebrates, capturing their prey mid-air. Their diet mainly consists of gnats and other small flies, especially those with aquatic life stages.

Where Do Sand Martins Live? (inc. migration info)

Sand Martins have a broad summer range, encompassing almost all of Europe, parts of northern Asia, and North America. These birds favour nesting near larger water bodies – rivers, lakes, and occasionally the ocean. 

Remarkably, they migrate to eastern and southern Africa, South America, and South Asia for winter.

Bird Calls & Songs (the unique voices of Sand Martins)

The Sand Martin’s song is a continuous twitter, especially noticeable in flight. This twitter transforms into a conversational undertone when they settle. They also emit a harsh alarm call as a group response to predators like falcons and crows.

Fun Sand Martin Facts (kid-friendly)

  • Sand Martins can fly over 4,000 km between the UK and Africa.
  • They live in large colonies, with up to hundreds of nests together.
  • Their nests are at the end of long tunnels in sandy or gravel banks.
  • They catch insects in mid-air while flying!
  • Sand Martins are found across Europe, Asia, and even North America.
  • They are among the first migratory birds to return to the UK in March.
  • They weigh only about 13-14 grams but have a wingspan of 26-29 cm.
  • They typically have two broods per year, with 4-5 eggs each time.
  • Listed as a species of least concern but are still protected in some areas.
  • They are known as ‘bank swallows’ in North America and ‘collared sand martins’ in India.

Sand Martin Images

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Facts About The Sand Martin

Diet: Invertebrates, taken on the wing.
Bird Family: Swallows and martins
Length: 12cm
Wingspan: 26-29cm
Weight: 13-14g
Scientific Name: Riparia riparia

The Sand Martin Can Be Seen In The UK During The Following Months

  • March
  • April
  • May
  • June
  • July
  • August
  • September
  • October