Sand martin

©Margaret Holland

Sand Martin

Scientific name: Riparia riparia
The tiny, brown-and-white Sand Martin is a common summer visitor to the UK, nesting in colonies on rivers, lakes and flooded gravel pits. It returns to Africa in winter.

Species information

Statistics

Length: 12cm
Wingspan: 28cm
Weight: 14g
Average lifespan: 2 years

Conservation status

Classified in the UK as Green under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for Birds (2015).

When to see

March to October

About

The Sand Martin is a common summer visitor to the UK, arriving in March and leaving in October. It nests in colonies, digging burrows in steep, sandy cliffs, usually around water, and is commonly found on wetland sites. The tunnels it bores can be up to a metre in length! At a chamber at the end of the burrow, four or five eggs are laid on collected straw and feathers. Sand Martins are sociable birds and will nest together in summer and gather to roost in large numbers in autumn; eventually they migrate to Africa to spend the winter.

How to identify

Our smallest swallow, the Sand Martin is brown above and white below, with a brown band across its breast and a short, forked tail.

Distribution

Widespread.

Did you know?

In North America, the Sand Martin is known as the 'Bank Swallow' because of its nesting habits. Its Latin name also means 'bank'. In India, it is known as the 'Collared Sand Martin'.

How people can help

The Wildlife Trusts are working hard to look after these summer visitors by managing wetland habitats sympathetically and providing artificial nesting banks and man-made burrows at sites such as flooded gravel pits and old quarries. You can help by supporting your local Trust and becoming a member; you'll find out about exciting wildlife news, events on your doorstep and volunteering opportunities, and will be helping local wildlife along the way.