Hirundine Headaches


You’d have thought by now I would automatically know what I am looking at but unfortunately I still stumble over whether it is a Swallow, House Martin, Sand Martin or a Swift – the latter of course isn’t even a Hirundine.

The problem of course is that usually you see these birds as they swoop across the skies above you, and as I enjoy their wonderful aerial displays I forget all of what I have been told about identifying each species. However I think my struggles might be finally over as I have come across a superb identification workshop video. The video is produced by the excellent British Trust for Ornithology. It is only 7 minutes long but in that time does a superb job in teaching you a few key things to look out for. Do click on the link and watch it.

House Martin

In the summer in England I often see House Martins when they peep out from their nests under the eaves of a house, and in Olhão I have seen them nesting under the towers of the hotel. My photographs though are all from the saltpans around Olhão. There were quite a few evenings when we watched a circlage of house martins collect mud to build their nests. Such fun to observe and photograph. Their Portuguese name is Andorinha-dos-beirais and despite their declining numbers you will still notice them in large numbers throughout the Algarve. As in England their arrival heralds the beginning of summer, which in the Algarve tends to be a good couple of months before England.

Andorinha-das-barreirasAs well as House Martins we have seen Sand Martins. Well we are pretty sure it was a Sand Martin peering down at us when we stopped beside a river in Alentejo. What do you think, is this the Andorinha-das-barreiras? They nest in sandy burrows in embankments and the ledge this one is perched on is above a river. They are rarely seen in the Algarve.


Usually a glimpse is all you see of Swallows as they swoop across the skies above you, but they do like to perch and so if you happen to be in the right place at the right time as I was in March then you can obtain wonderful photographs of them. Their Portuguese name is Andorinha-das-chaminés, and their collective noun in England is a ‘kettle’. In America the group name seems to be a ‘flight’. Swallows, like the House Martins, arrive in February in Portugal and stay until October.

Now the Swifts I totally failed to capture a photograph of this year, but we did see them. One evening we ate outside in the square opposite Olhão’s markets and enjoyed a spectacular noisy display as the swifts swooped above us. They are incredible flyers, and can even sleep on the wing. Their Portuguese name is Andorinhão-preto, and unsurprisingly their collective noun is a ‘scream’. It is in memory of watching and listening to a ‘scream of Swifts’ that Olhão that I leave you with a sound track from the Aves de Portugal website. This was recorded by Richard Dunn in Torla, Spain.

Author: BeckyB

It had been a good life walking, cooking, photographing, volunteering, blogging, and best of all spending time with MrB, family, & friends. Sadly it no longer is. Suddenly and unexpectedly I have become a widow.

5 thoughts

  1. Well done with your photos and it takes a bit of time to get to know the differences. I’m still getting ready to post my house Martin survey in Cabanas! The there is the red rumped swallow, interesting the Portuguese names showing the differences.

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