An Estate of Builder-Birds

House Martin Nests by Mike Prince

An Estate of Builder-Birds

Late on in the Spring,
We’ll see the house-martins come again –
In stylish black-and-white,
And darting back-and-forth about the lane.
They’re patching up their daub-and-wattle nests,
The ones they left behind –
The Winter muck is jettisoned,
The inside cleaned and freshly lined.
Are these the very birds we saw last year,
The self-same mums and dads ?
Or are these now the chicks they hatched at home,
Inheriting their pads ?
Though ev’ry year, I swear,
They build another house beneath the eaves,
And often touching in a terrace,
Neighbours watching out for thieves –
And those would be the sparrows,
Feckless squatters in these high-rise flats –
A better prospect than the hedges,
Safe from cuckoos, frost, and cats.
Hoping to be laid-and-raised
By hanging-out in hanging-domes,
Before the grockles fly in for the season
To their second homes.

Who is the Martin whose house these swallowets build ? The OED postulates that it is a contraction of Martinet, but that that in turn is a diminutive of Martin. Or it may be from a Latin term for a kingfisher. Or a bit of both – never underestimate the power of conflation.

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