Like the robin, this bird’s pet-name is becoming its ‘surname’; presumably it
used to be Martin Swallow, and therefore distinguished from the cousin, then the ‘chimney-swallow’.
This bird is actually ‘a swallow’ to a large number of people, and ‘the swallow’ to some great many town-dwellers, for because of its different nesting requirements, the house martin is becoming the commoner of the two in built-up areas. It appears a bird eminently ideal for all grades of urban and suburban life, because of its natural tendency would be to live in communities, there, beneath the sheltering eaves, its dwellings might be detached, semi-detached or perhaps in continuous terraces.
The analogy with human architecture might be carried further, for the martin also builds its residence with mineral matter, laid, like bricks, in single units of the material. Whether house martins merely get confused regarding which nest is which, or whether the species is promoting a commendable a feeling of neighbourliness unusual in colonial-nesting birds, is debatable; but the truth is that careful watching will advise you that more than two birds might be feeding the young in one nest. Once, at the beginning of October, when all the local house martins were assumed to possess gone, just one nest was discovered still containing young-and no less than five mature birds were found to be shuttling back and forth with food.
The house martin’s almost invariable selection of site for its nest on the building, a perpendicular wall with a few projecting shelter (normally the eaves) above, gives some clue regarding its ancestral nesting-site -a rock or cliff-face with projecting ledges or an overhang. Several such natural sites continue to be used, however in view of their comparative scarcity, the house martin, as the swallow, should have increased greatly with the creation of man the house-builder.