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Rock Martin Picture

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The Rock Martin, (Ptyonoprogne fuligula, syn. Hirundo fuligula) is a small passerine bird in the swallow family. It is resident in the mountains of Africa and into Arabia, but is also found at lower altitudes, especially in rocky areas and around towns. Unlike most swallows, it is often found far from water, but avoids tropical forests.

The Rock Martin builds a nest like that of a Barn Swallow, a deep bowl on a horizontal surface or a neat quarter-sphere against a rock face or wall. It is constructed with mud pellets and lined with grass or feathers. The nest may be built on natural sites under cliff overhangs or on man-made structures such as buildings, dam walls, culverts and bridges. The nest may be reused for subsequent broods or in later years.

The two or three eggs of a typical clutch are white with brown and grey blotches, and are incubated by the female alone for 16-19 days to hatching. Both parents then feed the chicks. Fledging takes another 22-24 days, but the young birds will return to the nest to roost for a few days after the first flight. This species is a solitary breeder, and is not gregarious, but small groups may breed close together in suitable habitat.

The Rock Martin is 12-15 cm long and somewhat similar in habits and appearance to the other aerial insectivores, such as the related swallows and the unrelated swifts. It has mainly earth-brown plumage, paler on the throat, breast and underwing coverts, and shows white "windows" on the spread tail in flight. The sexes are similar, but juveniles show pale edges to the upperparts and flight feathers.

Northern subspecies are smaller, paler, and whiter-throated than southern African forms. The northern races are paler, greyer, less contrasted on the underwing and whiter on the throat than the similar Crag Martin. Rock Martin also resembles the Sand Martin, but that species is smaller and lacks the tail spots. No resident African species of swallow are as drab as Rock Martin.

This bird's flight is slow with much gliding as it hunts for the insects on which it feeds while airborne. Its call is a soft twitter.

Taxonomic notes

The smaller, paler subspecies found in the mountains of North Africa and the Arabian peninsular are sometimes split as the Pale Crag Martin, Ptyonoprogne obsoleta.

The genus Ptyonoprogne is often subsumed into the larger swallow genus Hirundo.

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