We are fortunate to have a pair of house martins nesting on the back of our house. They are in an artificial nest only a few feet from our pair of swifts. The two species seem to co exist extremely well. I have lived with both species before and observed that they actually benefit from being together. Away from the nest they have a lot in common, both prefering to feed high on aerial insects when the weather allows. In colder or wet weather the two often feed low over water.
There is another benefit that I have noticed on many occasions. When house martins confidently swoop down to the eaves non breeding swifts often follow. This can really encourage a swift prospecting session. Though it can then lead to occasional mild conflict when a non breeding swift lands on the house martin’s nest. I saw this today. We had very intense period of prospecting swifts this morning, especially between 7-8 am. A house martin arrived at its nest with food for the four chicks, tailed closely by a swift which spread itselt over the martin’s nest. It quickly received a face full of house martin accompanied by aggressive chatter. The swift dropped away to carry on prospecting elsewhere.
I have seen this become a minor problem at a previous house. The ‘banging’ swift hit the natural mud nest of the martin with such force that chunks began falling off, particularly around the entrance hole. This went on for some days, but the martins responded in equal measure. They reinforced the entrance hole to form a much thicker edge which easily withstood future swift landings.
One common approach used by swift conservationists when persuading home owners to put up swift boxes is to tell them that swifts don’t make a ‘mess’ which isn’t always correct. House martins of course do make a ‘mess’. Or provide us with little heaps of compost, depending on your standpoint! I think it is important to try and persuade home owners that the ‘mess’ is easily cleared up and then to tell them how remarkable house martins are and how privileged they are to have this declining species choose their eaves to nest. Of course you won’t persuade everyone but house martins are just as deserving of our protection and encouragement as swifts. They remain for several weeks after the swifts’ depart which perhaps lessens the ‘blow’ as the sounds of summer remain. So this winter why not make plans to add some artificial house martin nests to put up next to your swift boxes?