I’ve lived with House Martins in the streets where I live, and sometimes next door, but never on my home, for more than half my life. Their return, ahead of the screaming Swifts, is looked for and appreciated when it happens. And they are there, chirrupping in flight, all summer long and sometimes daring to stay into the nippy days of early autumn long after the Swifts have gone. They tug summer after them and when it leaves it tugs them away with it.
Theunis Piersma, in the Netherlands, also lives with House Martins but he has put more effort into attracting them and they nest in numbers on his house in Gaast in Friesland.
This is a delightful book – there ought to be more like it. It reminded me more of David Lack’s Life of the Robin than of his Swifts in a Tower, despite the obvious similarities between House Martins and Swifts, because the book is so peppered with observations of the bird that were made by chance as the author went about his daily work. And this, too, is a book written by a leading ornithologist and ecologist whose observations of the birds around him are informed by a love of birds but also an understanding of what makes them tick.
As you sit in your garden on a summer evening, with House Martins above your head, you may have wondered where they spent the winter, what they eat, what their love life is like, how long they live and what are the main dangers they face. You will quite possibly have wondered where they nested before we provided them with houses. Piersma answers all these questions, and many more from reviewing the scientific literature and through his own observations and research. He also explains why white feathers, rather than dark ones, are used to line the nests (fascinating!) and touches on a host of other interesting areas that you will love.
Here are some chapter titles which give a flavour of the relaxed writing style but also the areas covered: Revisiting Gilbert White; James Bond; Hobbies – an aerial threat?; Insect-eating Orcas; To the Congo too?.
This is a book to buy now and read as you take part in the BTO House Martin Survey, and then to take out and read again every April for the rest of your life so that you can appreciate the author’s skill and remind yourself of the bird that is about to return to grace the skies of your city, town or village.
The attractive cover is by Carry Akroyd, the attractive chapter vignettes by Jos Zvarts and the delightful Foreword by Ian Newton.
Summer Guests: a House Martin love story by Theunis Piersma is published by the BTO (and a very fine job they have made of it).