Belongs to: aerial birds

Compare with: house martin

Sand martin Riparia riparia

Best time to see: end Mar to mid Sep

Key facts

Smallest of the swallow-like birds, sandy brown above

Habitat: river and gravel pit banks, sea cliffs

Localised summer visitors; usually arriving in mid-March


Completely brown upperparts, dark breast band, white below; 11–12 cm

Aerial and sociable birds, often gathering in twittering flocks

Feed on insects, and especially gnats, often in large flocks over water


One of earliest migrants to arrive, usually in mid-March; leave for southern Africa in September

Colonial nesters in holes in sand banks, sometimes using drainage pipes; two broods of 4–5 white eggs, May to July

  • Main photo

Photo © David Harrison