Tree Martin

Did you know?

When Tree Martins approach their roosting sites near sunset they may form large flocks, up to 50,000 in one estimate, which rise into the air en-masse, and then dive downwards together to disappear into the vegetation. 

The Tree Martin's call is a twittering sound. They often twitter constantly.
Facts and Figures
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2 or 3 usually, but up to 5
Conservation Status
Associated Plants
Basic Information
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What does it look like?

The Tree Martin is a small, swallow-like bird. The adult has a reddish-brown lower forehead, which becomes paler with wear. Its upper forehead, the crown of its head and the back of its neck are a glossy blue-black, though the gloss is lost with wear. It has a black patch in front of its eyes. Its upper back and shoulders are also blue-black. Its rump area is grey, grading towards the rear to brownish grey with reddish grey or buff edges, constituting a contrasting rump-patch . The upper tail is grey-black. Most of the upper wing appears blackish. The bird is paler underneath - sides of breast smoky grey, rest of breast, flanks and thighs dull reddish-brown, buff or cream.These colours grade into almost whiite towards the birds underside rear. Juvenile birds are similar but paler and brown where adults are glossy blue-black.

Similar species: 

The Fairy Martin, H. ariel, is similar but its upper head is reddish-brown rather than glossy blue-black, and it is paler and cleaner looking underneath. The Fairy Martin also has a shorter and squarer tail with a shorter fork and a white rump.

The Welcome Swallow H. neoxenahas no contrasting rump-patch. Its whole forehead is reddish-brown and it has a large reddish-brown throat patch. It usually has long tail streamers, or forked tail, though not during a moult. 

Where does it live?

The Tree Martin is found through eastern Indonesia, New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, and is widespread throught out Australia. It occasionally visits New Zealand and various outlying islands.


Tree Martins are found in the air above a range of habitats ranging from open grassed areas to forests, especially near wetlands, but they are also found in urban areas. They are found from the coasts to the arid inlands, from sea-level to over 1500m altitude. 

Seasonal movements: 

In eastern Australia southern populations of Tree Martins tend to migrate from southern Australia to winter in northern Australia and New Guinea, although some do not do so. Birds move north in autumn and south in spring.  The pattern in South and Western Australia is less clear.

What does it do?

Tree Martins eat insects, including ants, beetles, bugs, flies and wasps. They hunt by observing from a perch and sallying forth to catch prey on the wing. They do this at canopy height or higher, or low over open countryside. However they do occasionally pick food off the ground and other surfaces.


Tree Martin's nests can be either isolated or in colonies. In cases where the birds do not migrate, they will often visit the nest-site throughout the year. The nest is mostly in a hole in a tree branch, usually horizontal, which is often up high. Occasionally the nest is in holes or cracks in tree trunks or in cliffs, banks or even buildings. Nests are mostly in eucalypts, though other trees are used. Tree Martins sometimes lay their eggs straight onto the rotten wood in the nesting hollow or onto a bed of leaves, sometimes with dry grass, straw or feathers or other suitable materials. Some may build mud nests. Mud is also sometimes used around the hole at the entrance to a nest to reduce its size. Nesting materials are collected by both birds in a pair. When mud is used it has been observed to be obtained from the water's edge. 

Living with us

Populations of Tree Martins have decreased in Victoria due to logging of hollow-bearing trees. It has also been suggested that numbers have decreased in the southern Western Australian Wheatbelt because of woodland clearing.Some populations in south-east Australia have declined and it is thought that this is due to the expansion in range of the Common Starling, Sturnus vulgaris, which takes over nesting hollows. 

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