MY FRIEND Martin Tickler refers to them as Milton Keyneses ? new towns for house-martins. The thing is they work. Provided that the eaves are wide enough, house-martins will use artificial nests.
I have always been fond of house-martins; I took a shine to them during my schooldays when they provided an interesting diversion. When my wife and I moved to our current house, with its low bungalow eaves, there was a bit of evidence of nesting attempts at the two gable-ends but no sign elsewhere.
We decided to buy a couple of artificial nests and try to encourage nesting. In the first year the martins took no notice but we did get a brood of wrens. It was then that Martin put us right. “A skid mark,” he said, “that’s what you need. Put a little dab of white paint under the entrance to make it look as though the nest has been occupied before.”
He was right: the next year we had two pairs fledging two broods each. It was clear that our expanding colony was going to need further new houses, so I set about making some. The picture gives a fair idea of what is needed, but a few details will help.
Make a rough nest shape out of chicken-wire and staple it on to the backboard. Then line it with a bit of rag and smooth on some filler or plaster to form the inside of the nest. Leave it to set. Now staple the netting ends on to the top board and fill any small gaps, leaving an entrance hole 20mm deep by about 6cm wide. Once this has set, use more plaster to cover the outside of the netting so that you end up with the rag and wire sandwiched in the plaster.
Once the whole thing has dried, paint it. I use matt emulsion mixed to match the colour of local dried mud, but I suspect any colour will do. I have seen artificial nests painted lime green to match the rest of a house but am unsure whether the birds were using them before this colour was adopted. Whatever colour you use, remember to embellish with a white dab.
Now fix it under the eaves where it will be shaded from direct midday sun to avoid over-heating. Provided that the eaves are wide enough this shouldn’t be a problem. Aspect seems pretty unimportant, and ours are on both south-west and north-east facing walls.
Two other things are important: a free access flight in, and avoidance of clutter near the site. The martins are unlikely to use nests that are too close to cover that might hide a predator.
Mike Swan is head of education at The Game Conservancy Trust. (See also David Tomlinson’s article on building nest-boxes, Build a box so birds may nest, March issue.)