Sand martin

Sand martin

©Margaret Holland

Sand martin

Scientific name: Riparia riparia
The tiny, brown-and-white sand martin is a common summer visitor to the UK, nesting in colonies on rivers, lakes and flooded gravel pits. It returns to Africa in winter.

Species information


Length: 12cm
Wingspan: 28cm
Weight: 14g
Average lifespan: 2 years

Conservation status

Classified in the UK as Green under the Birds of Conservation Concern 5: the Red List for Birds (2021).

When to see

March to October


The sand martin is a common summer visitor to the UK, arriving in March and leaving in October. It nests in colonies, digging burrows in steep, sandy cliffs, usually around water, and is commonly found on wetland sites. The tunnels it bores can be up to a metre in length! At a chamber at the end of the burrow, four or five eggs are laid on collected straw and feathers. Sand martins are sociable birds and will nest together in summer and gather to roost in large numbers in autumn; eventually they migrate to Africa to spend the winter.

How to identify

Our smallest swallow, the sand martin is brown above and white below, with a brown band across its breast and a short, forked tail.



Did you know?

In North America, the sand martin is known as the 'bank swallow' because of its nesting habits. Its Latin name also means 'bank'. In India, it is known as the 'collared sand martin'.

How people can help



Sand Martin by John Bridges