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Sand Martin

Sand Martin
Both sexes: Sand-brown upperparts. White below with brown breast band.

Sand Martins, like House Martins and Swallows, are summer visitors from northern Africa but they are smaller than either of these other species of hirundine.

The upperparts are sand-brown and the underparts are white except for a brown breast band. The tail is forked but shorter than that of the Swallow. The bill and legs are black-brown.

Juveniles birds have pale fringes to their back feathers and the breast band is less distinct.

Hirundines and Swift Flight Identification
Hirundines and Swift Flight Identification

In flight, colours can be difficult to differentiate, in which case it is size, the lack of a white rump and the breast band that best tell it apart from Swallow and House Martin.


Scientific Name Riparia riparia
Length 12-13 cm (4¾-5¼")
Wing Span 26-29 cm (10½-11½")
Weight 13-14 g (½ oz)
Breeding Pairs 160000
Present Summer
Status Green

Distribution map - when and where you are most likely to see the species.


The song is a rasping, chattering twitter, similar to that of the Swallow and House Martin.


© Jean Roché,


As with other hirundines and Swifts the diet comprises insects, such as flies and spiders that it catches in flight.


Sand Martins nest in colonies, burrowing into banks, quarries and cliffs, and usually near water. Both sexes construct the nest burrow and line the nest chamber with plant material and feathers.

The eggs are white, smooth and glossy, and about 18 mm by 13 mm. Both parents take turns incubating the eggs and feeding the young.

Breeding Starts Clutches Eggs Incubation (days) Fledge (days)
April-May 2 3-7 12-16 c.19


Sand Martins are summer visitors and are among the earliest spring arrivals, often arriving in early March. They start their return journey to southern Africa for the winter in August.


The severe drought conditions in its African wintering grounds in the 1900s have caused the Sand Martin population to decline, and creates some concern for its conservation.