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Fairy Martin

(Petrochelidon [Hirundo] ariel)
Alternate name(s): "Bottle Swallow", "Cliff Swallow", "Land Swallow"
Aboriginal name(s): "boodibodi" (WA)

Size: 12-13 cm
Weight: 9-12 g

Similar species

Description     Classification     Distribution     Sightings     Photos     Breeding     Nest     Eggs     Behaviour     Food     Call/s

Physical description

Click here for a physical description

Taxonomy, classification

See Fairy Martin at Wikipedia .

Range, habitat, finding this species

Click here for information on habitat and range


Click here for sighting information



Sex unknown

Frontal view of a Fairy Martin collecting mud (photo courtesy of B. Hensen)
[Eastlakes Golf Course, Sydney, NSW, December 2017]

Frontal view of Fairy Martins collecting mud (photo courtesy of B. Hensen)
[Eastlakes Golf Course, Sydney, NSW, December 2017]

Fairy Martins lined up on a fence (photo courtesy of P. Brown)
[Timber Creek airport, Timber Creek, NT, November 2018]

Two Fairy Martins on the ground collecting nesting material; based on their normal behaviour one might think that they were after mud, but there is no mud here - this photo shows that they were also collecting ash of a woodfire
[Eulah Creek, NSW, September 2007]

Two Fairy Martins on the ground collecting nesting material
[Eulah Creek, NSW, September 2007]

Preening Fairy Martins perched in the top of a dead tree
[Walgett, NSW, September 2017]

Here a flock of Fairy Martins taking a timeout for some preening
[Eulah Creek, NSW, November 2008]

Fairy Martins taking flight
[Eulah Creek, NSW, September 2007]

Fairy Martin in flight
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, November 2010]

Fairy Martin in flight (left); on the left one can also see a Welcome Swallow
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, August 2010]

Not often seen together: Fairy Martins, with orange-brown caps, and Tree Martins, with black caps (photo courtesy of C. Hayne)

Frontal view of a Fairy Martin in low flight
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, September 2014]

Tree Martin (lower left) and Fairy Martin (upper right)
[Yarrie Lake, NSW, August 2013]

To the best of our knowledge this Fairy Martin made a little mistake; rather than scooping up water in flight like all its mates, it nose-dived into the water, only to come out again a second later


Fairy Martin "rookery" (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Postman's Track, Lake Samsonvale, QLD, November 2019]

Fledgling Fairy Martin sitting on a gravel road, begging for food (photo courtesy of R. Plumtree)
[Ensay South, East Gippsland, VIC, February 2015]

Breeding information

Breeding season: Jul - Dec Eggs: 4 - 6 Incubation period: 14 - 16 days Fledging age: 14 days

Fairy Martins can, given the right conditions, breed any time of the year. They nest in colonies. Male and female share the incubation and feeding duties. During the breeding season adult birds will roost in the nest.


"bungobittah", "malunna" = nest [Aboriginal]

Type: Bottle-shaped mud nest Material: Mud glued to overhanging surface Height above ground: >2 m

All Fairy Martin nests shown below, built under man-made structures such as bridges, culverts or awnings, are substitutes for this type of natural setting - an overhanging sandstone escarpment (photo courtesy of P. Brown)
[Nitmiluk NP (Katherine Gorge), NT, December 2017]

Closer look at Fairy Martin nests under an overhanging sandstone escarpment (photo courtesy of P. Brown)
[Nitmiluk NP (Katherine Gorge), NT, December 2017]

Obviously, Fairy Martin nests will be reddish when made from red soil
[Near Brewarrina, NSW, October 2010]

Fairy Martin nests made from red soil (photo courtesy of J. Greaves)
[Boolarday Station, Murchison, WA, July 2015]

Here the Fairy Martin builders are shown (photo courtesy of J. Greaves)
[Boolarday Station, Murchison, WA, July 2015]

... if grey soil is available, the outcome will look like this
[Near Brewarrina, NSW, October 2010]

The more discerning customers go for this multi-coloured "avant garde" model (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Gatton, QLD, August 2017]

Colony of Fairy Martin nests under a bridge across the Namoi River south of Narrabri; one chick can be seen waiting outside the nest, two others are looking out the entrance
[Near Narrabri, NSW, October 2007]

These Fairy Martin nests... (photo courtesy of R. Plumtree)
[Near Ensay, East Gippsland, VIC, September 2014]

... are located in a low and narrow culvert (photo courtesy of R. Plumtree)
[Near Ensay, East Gippsland, VIC, September 2014]

Close-up view of Fairy Martins collecting mud from the edge of a creek; these are some of the birds whose calls were recorded on 18 August 2014
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, September 2014]

Fairy Martins seen collecting red-soil mud from the edges of puddles (photo courtesy of J. Greaves)
[Boolarday Station, Murchison, WA, July 2015]

Fairy Martins collecting black soil, which will turn grey when dry (photo courtesy of C. Hayne)

Here the Fairy Martins are after dry grass, possibly to use it as lining material; note that this photo was taken in winter
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, August 2011]

Abandoned, or temporarily vacant, Fairy Martin nests can provide shelter for spiders (photo courtesy of M. Eaton)
[Lake Clarendon, QLD, July 2018]


"boyanga", "booyanga", "derinya", "dirandil", "koomura", "ngampu", "nooluk", "pateena" = Egg; "dirundirri" = eggs [Aboriginal]; "gawu" = eggs [gamilaraay]

Size: 17 x 12 mm Colour: Pale creamy with light-brown speckles Shape: Tapered oval


Social behaviour: Communal Mobility: Migratory Elementary unit: Flock

As opposed to other swallows, Fairy Martins hunt in flocks. They also go to ground in flocks of 10 to 20. It is now clear that they collected ash from the ground, probably as a binding agent for their nests (see photos above). Normally we see them collecting mud, not ash.

Fairy Martins are shier than other types of swallows and will not nest close to humans.

Like other types of swallows, Fairy Martins scoop up water in flight
[Narrabri Lake, NSW, September 2011]

Food, Diet

Adults: Small insects Dependents: As adults Water intake: Daily(?)

Like all other swallows known to us, Fairy Martins are insect hunters. They feed in-flight on small insects.


For this species we have recorded the following call(s)/song. The interpretation of their meaning is our own; comments and suggestions for improvement are welcome.

fmartin_20190621.m4a (NW NSW) Contact/warning calls (flock; in-flight) © MD

These pages are largely based on our own observations and those of our contributors. The structure of these bird pages is explained HERE. For more salient facts on any bird species please refer to a field guide.

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