Fairy martins are small members of the swallow family that are mainly seen in open country. A resident of mainland Australia, eastern Australian populations migrate north during autumn, often in the company of welcome swallows and tree martins. Occasional birds occur as far south as Tasmania and New Zealand. Fairy martins construct distinctive bottle-shaped mud pellet nests with a long, narrow entrance way.
The fairy martin is a small swallow with a short, slightly square, tail and long, broad wings with pointed tips that extend slightly past the tail when perched. They are dull dark blue on the back and upperwings, with a prominent off-white rump and pale chestnut head. In flight, the wings are shorter than those of most other swallows. The sexes are alike.
Voice: high pitched twittering.
Similar species: similar to the tree martin (also vagrant in New Zealand), the fairy martin is slightly smaller with a less pronounced fork of the tail, and has pale rufous extending from the forehead across the crown to the nape (cf. on forehead only for tree martin). Welcome swallow is larger, longer winged, with a long, deeply-forked tail, and dark blue-black on the crown and nape.
Distribution and habitat
Fairy martins are widespread in mainland Australia, and exhibit seasonal north to south movement. They are vagrant to New Guinea, New Zealand, Lord Howe Island and Tasmania.
New Zealand records
Fairy martins were first recorded from distinctive bottle-shaped mud nests found in southern Wairarapa in December 1978 (the birds were not seen). There have since been about 16 sight records, including Farewell Spit (November 1982), Totaranui (5 birds, February 1983), with tree martins at Taieri (2, February-March 1983, also December 1983), Cape Reinga (November 1983), Leigh (November 1984), Red Hill, Papakura (January, 1985), Te Paki (2, August 2001), Pungaereere Stream, Rahotu (4, September 2001), Tapora, Kaipara (July 2004), Snares Islands (November 2004), and Tawharanui (2, March 2008). Several other records have not been submitted for assessment.
Behaviour and ecology
In Australia, fairy martins nest in colonies, building their distinctive tubular mud nests against buildings, in caves and on cliffs. They are not territorial, and can form large flocks, particularly when roosting or during migration. Fairy martins tend to fly low to the ground, with rapid wing beats, and are highly agile.
Fairy martins feed on insects, taken in the air by sallying at variable heights, with rare records of feeding on the ground. Often feeds with other species, such as the welcome swallow. No New Zealand data.
Higgins, P.J.; Davies, S.J.J.F. (eds.) 1996. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic birds. Vol. 7, boatbill to starlings. Oxford University Press, Melbourne.
Heather, B.D. & Robertson, H.A. 2005. The field guide to the birds of New Zealand. Penguin Books: Auckland.
Doyle, E. 2013. Fairy martin. In Miskelly, C.M. (ed.) New Zealand Birds Online. www.nzbirdsonline.org.nz
- Breeding season
- Egg laying dates