American Birding Podcast



#ABArare – Common House-Martin – Alaska

On August 18, Doug Gochfeld found an apparent Common House-Martin (Code 4) on St. Paul Island while he was on his way to refill a hummingbird feeder. (No, there are no hummingbirds on the island, but these guys are prepared.) I say "apparent" because another species, Asian House-Martin, is very similar in appearance, and its normal range is not much further from St. Paul than that of the Common House-Martin. However, it has not been documented in the ABA Area. To the best of my knowledge, Asian House-Martin has not definitely been eliminated as a possibility yet.

ABArare Common House-Martin Gochfeld flight

ABArare Common House-Martin Gochfeld perchedphotos by Doug Gochfeld

Usually you have to search for the bird that you're looking for, but Gochfeld and the other St. Paul guides didn't have that problem with this bird after the initial sighting. Gochfeld says that everytime he moved or stopped looking at it, the House-Martin would buzz his head, nearly hitting him about a dozen times. Several times he lost sight of it, only to refind it as it flew up behind him at point-blank range. Fellow guide Cameron Cox got to share the experience as well.

ABArare Common House-Martin Gochfeld CoxCameron Cox's close encounter with a Common House-Martin. Photo by Doug Gochfeld

The Bering Sea region, particularly St. Paul, is the best place in the ABA Area to find Common House-Martin. There are about 13 records for the ABA Area, with seven coming from St. Paul. I know of only two records from outside this region: one near the mouth of the Colville River on the north slope of Alaska in 1983 and one at Saint-Pierre (yes, of Saint-Pierre et Miquelon fame) in 1989.

Other goodies at St. Paul on the 18th included the long-staying White-tailed Eagle, Common Snipe, and a Red-necked Stint. A few participants of the ABA's rarity-hunting trips are already expressing their hopes on the ABA Rare Bird Alert Facebook group that the House-Martin sticks around for at least another month. For information on how to visit the island on your own, check out St. Paul Island Tours website here.