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Sand Martin, Riparia riparia, Backsvala, European Sand Martin

The Sand Martin (Riparia riparia), called Backsvala in Skåne, or European Sand Martin, Bank Swallow in the Americas, and Collared Sand Martin in India, is a migratory passerine bird in the swallow family. It has a wide range in summer, embracing practically the whole of Europe and the Mediterraneancountries and across the Palearctic to the Pacific Ocean.

It is a Holarctic species also found in North America. It winters in eastern and southern Africa, South America, and the Indian Subcontinent.

Range map
Range map
Range map
By Cephas - BirdLife International. 2016. Riparia riparia. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016:
Downloaded on 20 May 2018., CC BY-SA 4.0,

Range map from

Range map
Range map from - Ornithological Portal is one of those MUST visit pages if you're in to bird watching. You can find just about everything there

This species was first described by Linnaeus in his Systema Naturae in 1758, and originally named Hirundo riparia; the description consisted of the simple H[irundo] cinerea, gula abdomineque albis – "an ash-grey swallow, with white throat and belly" – and the type locality was simply given as "Europa". The specific name means "of the riverbank"; it is derived from the Latin ripa "riverbank".

The Pale Martin of northern India and southeastern China is now usually split as a separate species Riparia diluta. It has paler grey-brown upperparts and a less distinct breast band. It winters in Pakistan and southern India.

The 12 cm long Sand Martin is brown above, white below with a narrow brown band on the breast; the bill is black, the legs brown. The young have rufous tips to the coverts and margins to the secondaries.

Its brown back, white throat, small size and quick jerky flight separate it at once from similar swallows, such as the common house martin (Delichon urbicum), the American cliff swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) or other species of Riparia. Only the banded martin (R. cincta) of sub-Saharan Africa is similar, but the Sand Martin only occurs there in (the northern) winter.

The Sand Martin's twittering song is continuous when the birds are on the wing and becomes a conversational undertone after they have settled in the roost. The harsh alarm is heard when a passing falcon, crow or other suspected predator requires combined action to drive it away.

Length: 12 cm
Wingspan: 30 cm
Weight: 12 - 18 g
Longevity: 8 years
Distinctive Feature

Similar Species

• The Eurasian Crag Martin is larger and flies more slowly.

• Common Swifts appear all dark and very sickle or boomerang-shaped and are comparatively large compared to the three hirundines below.

Barn Swallows are mostly pale from below and all dark above, has much longer tail streamers, a black breast and red throat.

• Common House Martin are very white below and dark from above, with much shorter, dark tail, and a prominent white rump

• Sand Martin are pale from below with a dark throat band, but noticeably brown-coloured.

• There is a difference in the flying style too: House martin flight is more fluttery than a Barn Swallow which is faster, more direct and swooping, while Sand Martin are more fluttery still, and Common Swift are very fast and look somewhat stiff-winged.

• Finally, the calls are all quite distinct: swift calls are quite loud and screeching, while swallows are more twittery and varied. House martin and Sand Martin calls are quite similar, less sustained than swallows possibly, and more chirpy and clipped, with sand martin being slightly scratchier or hoarse sounding.

From opus at the forum for wild birds and birding.
Female / Male / Juvenile

• Sexes similar
Juveniles: tertials and upper wing-coverts have pale fringes; breast band is less distinct.

From opus at the forum for wild birds and birding.

Listen to the Sand Martin

Remarks from the Recordist

Recorded with my ZOOM H5 Handy recorder. High pass filter with Audacity

Birds sitting on a wire and it looks like they are starting to think about flying back to Africa to spend the winter

On the picture we can also see a very few Barn Swallows, the darker birds with orange/ brown throat instead of white throat

Linnaeus already remarked on this species' breeding habits: Habitat in Europae collibus arenosis abruptis, foramine serpentino—"it lives in Europe, in winding holes in sheer sandy hills". It has been observed that Sand Martins favour loess as a particular type of ground to nest in.

Sand martins are generally found near larger bodies of water, such as rivers, lakes or even the ocean, throughout the year.

The Sand Martin appears on its breeding grounds as the first of its family, starting towards the end of March, just in advance of the barn swallow. In northern Ohio, they arrive in numbers by mid-April, about 10 days earlier than they did 100 years ago.

At first, they flit over the larger bodies of water alone, in search of early flies. Later parties accompany other swallow species, but for a time, varying according to weather, the birds remain at these large waters and do not visit their nesting haunts. The Sand Martin departs early, at any rate from its more northerly haunts.

In August, the gatherings at the nightly roost increase enormously, though the advent and departure of passage birds causes great irregularity in numbers. They are essentially gone from their breeding range by the end of september.

Sand Martin, Riparia riparia, Backsvala, European Sand Martin
Eggs, Collection Museum Wiesbaden, Germany
By Klaus Rassinger und Gerhard Cammerer, Museum Wiesbaden - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

The food consists of small insects, mostly gnats and other flies whose early stages are aquatic.

The Sand Martin is sociable in its nesting habits; from a dozen to many hundred pairs will nest close together, according to available space. The nests are at the end of tunnels of from a few inches to three or four feet in length, bored in sand or gravel.

The actual nest is a litter of straw and feathers in a chamber at the end of the burrow; it soon becomes a hotbed of parasites. Four or five white eggs are laid about mid-late May, and a second brood is usual in all but the most northernly breeding sites.

This is not a rare bird, and it is classified as a species of Least Concern by the IUCN. It does have some local protections, as certain populations have declined or face threats from habitat loss and fragmentation. They are considered threatened in California, where populations exist in the Sacramento Valley and at two coastal sites, Año Nuevo State Park and Fort Funston.

Conservation status
Conservation status
Least Concern (IUCN 3.1)
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2012. Retrieved 26 November 2013.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Sighted: (Date of first photo that I could use) 20 July 2018
Location: Stormyrberget, Piteå

Sand Martin, Riparia riparia, Backsvala, European Sand Martin
Sand Martin / Backsvala - 20 July 2018 - Stormyrberget, Piteå

Sand Martin, Riparia riparia, Backsvala, European Sand Martin
Sand Martin / Backsvala - 20 July 2018 - Stormyrberget, Piteå

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