The 12 cm long Sand Martin is brown above, white below with a narrow brown band on the breast; the bill is black, the legs brown. The young have rufous tips to the coverts and margins to the secondaries. Its brown back, white throat, small size and quick jerky flight separate it at once from similar swallows, such as the House Martin (Delichon urbicum), the Cliff Swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) or other species of Riparia. Only the Banded Martin (R. cincta) of sub-Saharan Africa is similar, but the Sand Martin only occurs there in winter.

Habitat and Distribution

It has a wide range in summer, embracing practically the whole of Europe and the Mediterranean countries, part of northern Asia and also North America. It winters in eastern and southern Africa, South America and South Asia. It lives in Europe, in winding holes in sheer sandy hills. It is generally found near larger bodies of water, such as rivers, lakes or even the ocean, throughout the year.


The food consists of small insects, mostly gnats and other flies whose early stages are aquatic.


The Sand martin is sociable in its nesting habits; from a dozen to many hundred pairs will nest close together. The nests are at the end of tunnels of from a few inches to three or four feet in length, bored in sand or gravel. The actual nest is a litter of straw and feathers in a chamber at the end of the burrow; it soon becomes a hotbed of parasites. Four or five white eggs are laid about mid-late May, and a second brood is usual in all but the most northernly breeding sites.

Calls and Songs

The Sand Martin's twittering song is continuous when the birds are on the wing. They have a harsh alarm call heard when a passing falcon, crow or other suspected predator requires combined action to drive it away.