Strictly for Birds
Not being a man who takes much notice of such things, I cannot say if house martins have always nested in our buildings at Staunton. Certainly we were always aware of them in the stable courtyard, now the Ferrers Centre, and in the Hall since we moved to live here. It is only in the last three years that we have come to notice a strange phenomenon.
The birds in the Ferrers Centre arrive two to three weeks before the ones at the Hall. Each year Jacqueline frets that ‘our’ house martins will not arrive, blown off course or shot by the pesky Italians. Now, thankfully, we may be about to learn of a scientific explanation.
Researchers at Giggleswick University, aided by a generous grant from the RSPB, are two years into a five year investigation of the species. They have found, for instance, that the birds are well on with nest building in the village of Woodstock before the first martin appears at Blenheim Palace next door. Also at Castle Howard, where the birds come much later than in the adjoining villages. This last has been the subject of closer study, because of its proximity to the university, and here they have made a fascinating discovery.
The martins which nest in the eaves and high window reveals of the castle are physically different from their neighbours in the valley below. The tails are slightly longer, and the beaks are very slightly curved, not so much aquiline as aristocratic. They appear to be, in fact, a different sub-species of the hirundines.
Research is continuing elsewhere, as and when permission can be obtained. The Queen is said to be sympathetic, but Francois Hollande has responded negatively to investigations at the Louvre and Palace of Versailles, Scientific nomenclature will come later, but already our birds are being referred to informally as Hall Martins.