By late October, the last of the visitors are leaving Nowhere Wood. House martins are birds that build nests in the eaves of the surrounding houses. They fly by swooping up and down in the summer skies, feeding on flying insects.
Then, suddenly, as the season changes, they leave. But where do they go?
Amazingly, for such confident, visible, birds, they have been able to keep this a secret from us. And, even today, we really do not know for sure. We think they fly to Africa, over the Sahara Desert, to countries like Cameroon, Congo and the Ivory Coast. That’s a journey of over 5 000 km.
There they spend the winter, feeding and resting, before making the return journey in early Spring, arriving back to Nowhere Wood by April.
If all goes well, they return to the wood, and even to the same nests. It is a dangerous adventure and not all make it back. The birds can be eaten by birds of prey, or trapped by hunters.
Above all, the declining number of insects is killing the house martins. Loss of habitats, use of pesticides and climate change are all linked to human activity, so indirectly, we are to blame. So, perhaps, in the future, it will not be goodbye for now, but goodbye forever.
- How does the use of pesticides across Europe and Africa affect the survival of house martins?
- How could we conserve our populations of house martin?