Dusky House Martins

another hirundine tale


“Terry Townshend: So, in summary, the combination of a smallish white rump (sometimes flecked), dark underwing coverts, ‘dirty’ underparts contrasting with a clean white throat, a shorter, squarer tail and a darker ‘face’ are all characteristics associated with Asian House Martin. Maybe one will turn up at your migration watchpoint this autumn…?”

The possibility of rarer taxa always get the juices flowing. I am not aware of a full credible record yet of the Asian House Martin (Delichon dasypus) in the Western Palearctic. There have been a few claims. We have featured the subject before as in Terry Townshend’s post HERE.

The thing is (and I am in this group) knowing what some juvenile House Martin’s could look like has been largely ignored for many birders. As we approach the Spurn Migration Festival– House Martin is another species we will certainly see migrating south. Watching, studying and talking about! Migrating to winter in areas of sub-Saharan Africa that have remained a mystery for most of my 40 years in birding. Just beginning to be revealed. Amazing!

Spurn and House Martins in Autumn

Andy Roadhouse (from his new book out later this year ‘The Birds of Spurn’.)

“Passage ranges from mid-August to mid-November, with the latest record on 28th November 1991. Peak passage is from early September to early October. A total of 316,544 flew south in the autumns between between 1952 and 2014 (313,026 since 1965) and the best autumns are 1989 (27,373), 2003 (18,264), 1980 (16,719), 2000 (14,417), and 2011 (14,011). 313, 026   3518

The highest day count was on the same day as the highest count for Swallows — 3rd September 2003 — when a minimum of 15,000 flew south. Other high counts include 12,550 on 22nd September 1989, 8000 on 12th September 2000, 7525 on 24th September 1980, 7000 on 8th September 2009, and 6000 on 16th September 1983.

Them funny darker House Martins

Yoav Perlman who will be bringing, no doubt and absolutely fascinating Saturday evening lecture at the Migration Festival, sent these photos of a House Martin whose plumage is a little less familiar:

This first winter bird below was ringed at Ngulia, E Kenya, in December 2008
Similar looking birds are seen in Israel in autumn. Check it out!

House Martin Ngulia 1208 YP profile House Martin Ngulia 1208 YP upper

House Martin Ngulia 1208 YP under


At Flamborough in late October

and to compare…  I photographed this first winter House Martin, showing more typical upper and underparts, at Flamborough, outside what is now our home, on 30th October 2013.

Asan House Martin would be sooooo easy to overlook. Discerning the tell-tale more blackish underwing coverts of Asian dasypus can be extremely difficult in the field. The biggest stumbling block is that European bird flying above you have the underwing coverts mostly in shadow and they look (and photograph) blackish. I am pretty sure Andrea Corso and I have chatted about this- I look forward to his big hello!

All photos below, 1st winter House Martin, Flamborough, 30th October, 2013, Check out appearance of underwings and quite extensive dark marks on flanks.

juvenile House Martin c Flamborough 30.10.13 juv i House Martin 30th oct 2013 flamb (1 of 1) juv j House Martin 30th oct 2013 flamb (1 of 1) and finally the underwing coverts revealed:juv f House Martin 30th oct 2013 flamb (1 of 1)

still really well marked flanks

juv c House Martin 30th oct 2013 flamb (1 of 1) juv d House Martin 30th oct 2013 flamb (1 of 1)

and managed just one shot from above

juv h House Martin 30th oct 2013 flamb (1 of 1)


Enjoy your hirundines and don’t miss out! Sign up for the field birding event of the year

Spurn Migration Festival– booking right here honey:  Click HERE

juv b House Martin 30th oct 2013 flamb (1 of 1)

2 thoughts on “Dusky House Martins

  1. Christian Cederroth

    I do get a few “rather uncomfortably looking” House Martin juveniles annually from my 100 or so breeding pairs on and around the Segerstads fyr (lighthouse), Öland, Sweden. None as extreme as the Ngulia bird though.


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