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  • Aditya Singh

The Agile Grey-throated Martin



Favourite perch

These birds are among the smallest in their family comprising Swallows, Swifts and Martins. They are dark brown above with white bellies and, as their name suggests, have a grey throat and appear to be wearing a brown necklace.

Their eyes are specially adapted for the forward vision for them to be able to see & catch insects flying in front of them. They have long, pointed wings that reach upto their tails and are darker than the rest of the body. The legs and feet may look weak but are strong enough for them to be able to perch vertically on a wall.



Fast flyer – difficult to capture in flght

These birds are designed for flight. Their body, their shape, their wings, everything is designed for flight. They are flying almost all the time. Consider the following:

  1. Maximum time spent –  in air

  2. Catch insects –   in air

  3. Drink – swoop down while in air

A similar bird, (the Alpine Swift}, is known to even sleep while in air. Maybe our bird has this ability too.


These birds can stay in the air for a long time

They even feed while flying & can fly continuously for long periods but they do take short breaks on electric wires as and when they require.


Family flock – larger ones are Swallows

They live in mini-flocks and are sometimes seen with Swallows & other cousins, seeking strength in numbers.


Nests in mud banks

Like Bee-eaters, they make their nests in holes on mud banks.


Adapting to the concrete jungle

I have even noticed a new adaptation: nesting in the holes of a concrete wall (image above and the header image).

They make very short & brief visits to their nests to feed their young ones. The entire process is so fast that you blink and miss it.


This bird faces a very different challenge. They are flying almost all the time & also, the timing of their nesting coincides with the time when air pollution is at its peak.

When we humans exercise, we take in more air. We breathe the same polluted air & from my own experience I can tell you, it made me very sick with severe cold-like symptoms. My breathing became very shallow to minimize the intake of bad air. 

Similarly, when these birds are flying, it is also an exercise for them. They also breathe in the same polluted air. Since birds are flying all the time, all that polluted air going inside would be doing them a lot of harm. And on top of that, they have to feed their chicks which means more flying & harder work for their lungs. Also, since these birds are so small, the more pollutants might be accumulating in their bodies relative to their size. (Not sure if someone is studying the impact of pollution on the birds. It will be interesting to know the findings of such studies).

My opinion:

  1. These birds are small (just shy of 12 cms) and so their size & speed makes them difficult to photograph, especially in flight, flying at well over 100 km/h.

  2. These birds have recently been split from the Sand Martins. The grey throat is not the most prominent feature. The brown necklace is. So this bird is being commonly misidentified.

  3. They may be migrants that arrive in winter to breed in the northern states of India as I have not seen them in their favorite haunts or elsewhere during summer.

  4. Human impact:

  5. At first, we humans sprayed and took away most of their insect food.

  6. Then, the mud/sand banks where they usually bred were mined away.

  7. Now, the air where they spend their time is polluted.

  8. It seems to me that we are turning their world grey.

Look forward to your thoughts.

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