Common House Martin (Delichon urbica Linnaeus)

/ / Birds


D. urbica is between 13. 5 and 15 centimetres in length (1). The species has a pure white rump and dark upper parts, partly royal blue and part black, along the wings and towards the back end (2). When in flight, the House Martin normally uses a mixture of long glides and is less swift than some of its relatives (1). 


The bird uses a broad variety of open terrains (2), and has also been known to nest on cliffs, caves and gorges in remote locations (3, 4). It uses both terrestrial and freshwater systems throughout its range (5). On Crete, the species is known to nest up to 1600 metres above sea level (6). 

Life Cycle

This species is found throughout the whole of Europe, however only as a summer visitor (1). There is usually a peak in numbers in April (3). Within the Greek protectorate, it can be found throughout the mainland and on the islands in both the Ionian and the Aegean Seas (3). 


D. urbica overwinters in Africa and then returns to the continent between March and October (1). 


Very confiding towards Homo sapiens, and uses anthropogenic environments for nest-building and such like. In more natural settings, nests are attached to rock walls or mountain precipices (1). 


This species tends to be an effusive communicator, especially when in the colonial environment. Calls are similar in sound to “prrit,” although this may alter depending on emotions and the necessity of the situation (1). The song of this bird is more representative of a “babbling twitter” (2). 


This species is insectivorous, and takes them at all altitudes (1; 2). However, most of the insects are taken when higher in the sky (1). The diet is comprised mainly of aphids and flies (4).


Conservation status

This is a common and widespread species throughout Greece, however it only arrives in the summer (1). The total breeding population is thought to exceed 50, 000 pairs, possibly as many as 200, 000 (2). The species is listed on the British Trust for Ornithology’s (BTO) Amber list (4). This was between 2002 and 2007, due to a recent population decline (4). The species is understood to be declining throughout Europe (4). The IUCN (International Conservation Union) has identified this decline (5),; however the species is still classified as ‘Least Concern’ in the most recent list, from 2012 (5). 


Description written by M. James Rowen (2013)


            (1) Mullarney K., Svensson L., Zetterstrom D., Grant P. J., 1999, Collins Bird Guide: The most complete field guide to the birds of Britain and Europe, Harper Collins Publishers Ltd.: London, U. K.        

            (2) Jonsson L., 2003, Birds of Europe, Christopher Helm Publishers Ltd.: London, U. K.        

            (3) Handrinos G., Akriotis T., 1997, The Birds of Greece, Christopher Helm Publishers Ltd.: London, U. K.

            (4) Robinson R. A., 2005, Common House Martin, Birdfacts: profiles of birds occurring in the U. K., British Trust for Ornithology [Online] (Available at:

            (5) Birdlife International, 2012, Delichon urbicum, in: IUCN 2013, IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, Version 2013.1 [Online] (Available at:

            (6) Watson G. E., 1964, Ecology and Evolution of Passerine birds on the islands of the Aegean Sea, PhD. Thesis, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, 237 pp.