House martins paintings by Jonathan Pomroy

House martins collecting mud – May 19th 2022

On 19th May 2022 the house martins in Gilling East were gathering mud to build or repair nests. I crouched against a garden wall with my sketchbook and watercolours to hand in a position which enabled good views, without disturbing their activity. I did receive some rather curious looks from passing drivers and pedestrians, but for some people who stopped to chat it was a good chance for me to tell them more about my lovely little life models.

When house martins come down to the ground they settle very close to each other to gather a good beakful of mud- the more eyes to look around when they are so vulnerable the better. They waddle about clumsily on white feathered legs and being quite tame allow me really close views if I sit quietly. The recent rain had really helped a lot of house martin colonies where mud is essential to enable them to breed. Numbers in 2022 were encouraging in Gilling East after a very poor year in 2021.

All our house martins are nesting in artificial nest cups. While we don’t want to see a world without mud house martin nests, artificial nests offer them a reliable place to breed. In areas where numbers are low the provision of artificial nest cups enables some house martins to maximise their breeding potential.

In a dry spring nest cups can literally be the difference between house martins breeding or not, so they have the potential to save a colony. House martins could occupy nest cups and breed between now and early July, so it is not too late to attract them this year. These lovely, now red listed, birds really need our help, so please consider providing artificial nest cups.

Another very simple thing you can do to help house martins this spring is to keep an eye on their mud supply. A few years ago all house martin nest building ceased because there was no source of mud left near the breeding area- it had all dried up. Each day I poured a couple of full watering cans of water on the dry mud. The house martins found it immediately and nest building continued. Such a simple act might literally save a colony.

Jonathan Pomroy

To read Jonathan’s House Martin Diary visit


Written by Jonathan Pomroy


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