Learn about native animals

Tree Martins

How many thousands of me live on Leigh Street?

As many as 10,000 of me have been seen in the trees of Leigh Street at night. This is the most of us seen in one place anywhere in Australia!

Who am I?

I’m called a tree martin (Petrochelidon nigricans) and I’m related to a type of bird called a swallow.

I’m an agile little bird and will fly in an erratic but skilled way when in pursuit of flying insects to eat. After breeding season has finished, our family groups congregate in huge flocks around Adelaide, and we love venturing into the heart of the city life during the warmer months to roost at night.

What do I look like?

I’m a tiny bird with glossy blue-black feathers on my neck, back and crown and cream feathers on my breast and tummy. My wings and tail are a brownish-grey, with a darker grey underneath and I have reddish brown markings on my head.

I’m only around 13 centimetres long and although I look similar to fairy martins, you can tell me apart because I have blue colouring around my head. You can tell the difference between me and Adelaide's welcome swallows by my lack of a strongly forked tail.

Males and females look mostly the same however, our young are browner and paler with more subtle colours.

Where do I live?

I can be found throughout Australia during the warmer months between January and May. I spend a lot of time abroad too!

I like all kinds of environments from open grassland to forests and wetlands, and also cities and suburban areas.

When the temperature drops in Adelaide around May to July each year most of us will depart for warmer places and head to northern Australia with some of us venturing as far as New Guinea and Indonesia.

Every year we return to Leigh Street in the heart of Adelaide to our favourite Callery pear trees. Sometimes there’s so many of us (up to 10,000) we are forced to spread out to trees in surrounding streets.

We feel safe in these trees as the noise, light and people from this bustling street helps to keep some of our predators away.

To get into the trees to roost we have to avoid the gauntlet of falcons that want to make a meal of us. Our strategy to avoid the peregrine falcons and the Australian hobbies is to remain high above the city until the light begins to fade, then we plummet towards the trees in a large group to reach the safety of the leaves as quickly as possible.

We chatter a lot when as we settle in for the night. When we’re asleep in the trees we look a lot like the leaves on the tree, so this keeps us hidden.

What do I like to eat?

We eat all kinds of flying insects like flies, beetles and wasps, and we love the mosquitoes in the saltmarshes north of Adelaide. We spend much of our days feasting on them over summer.

We quickly dart about with swift, acrobatic manoeuvres, catching these quick insects with great skill and eating them while in the air.

What do I sound like?

My call is a pleasant ‘twittering’ sound, which I make constantly. Listen to my call.

What are my breeding habits?

I mostly nest in horizontal tree hollows of gum trees, and I also nest in the vertical banks of eroded creeklines.

When living in the city and built-up areas, sometimes I use artificial nests like a steel tubing at the top of stobie poles and vent holes in older buildings.

I lay 2 to 5 eggs white eggs with brown and mauve spots. Both parents incubate the eggs and feed the nestlings.

What can you do to help?

Although there may be a lot of us visiting Leigh Street each year, the number of birds breeding is considered to be declining in the Mounty Lofty Ranges and Adelaide area.

You can help by looking after Adelaide's trees with hollows, including keeping dead tree branches around.

Next time you’re out and about in Leigh Street, enjoy the spectacle and you might even spot more of us around Adelaide. If you hear someone say “wow look at all the little bats” please set them straight!