The house martin and how the bat came to be (051)

Thousands of years ago the house martin was black and lived in the chimneys of houses. It is common knowledge that this bird catches large amounts of mosquitoes, which is why people like them. A much less well-known fact is that the house martin was literally present at the birth of the bat. Bats came to be as a result of the devil abusing the house martin’s good nature. Listen to this old French tale:

One summer evening a female martin was sitting on her eggs when a small mouse popped its head up through an opening in her nest. “Oh, Mother Martin, I am terrified, can I hide in your nest for the night?” begged the mouse. “There are these cats waiting under the roof to gobble me up for their supper.”
“My dear Mouse, your coming is a godsend,” replied the martin. “My husband has not come home from hunting mosquitoes and I fear the worst for him. I am hungry and have to go mosquito hunting myself now. If you were to hide in my nest for a few days, would you be prepared to keep my eggs warm? In return I’ll bring you the most delicious seeds I can find.”
The mouse thought this was a brilliant offer. Free food, the safety and comfort of a nest and only a few eggs to keep warm. What more could he want for! And so Mother Martin was able to regain her strength and she had some company into the bargain.
After a few days the mouse suddenly disappeared. Not long after the eggs had hatched and it was immediately clear that these were no ordinary little martins: they were covered in hair! Mother Martin was beside herself and rushed off to see her fellow martins and tell them her strange tale. “Four monsters have just crawled out of my eggs. That mouse must have been the devil himself!”
The Queen Martin visited Mother Martin in person and couldn’t believe her eyes. The little martins didn’t only have hair instead of down fluff, but they also had upright ears, a pointed nose with whiskers and little teeth instead of a beak. They looked like mice with wings.!
“These devilish malformed creatures may never be known of as martins,” pronounced Queen Martin. “I banish you henceforth to a life in the darkness, so that nobody will ever see you. If I ever catch one of you out in the daytime, I will kill you personally,” she hissed at the four young creatures. “Nobody must ever know that you are related to we noble martins.”
From that day on the queen forbade the house martins to live in chimneys because mice could climb up them. So now they build their nests under roof eaves, attaching them onto the vertical wall beneath. In this way no mouse could possibly ever reach it.
In every way the lives of house martins and bats remained separate as of that fateful day. Bats fly after nightfall and house martins build their beautiful nests under gutters. And yet another change took place: the house martins were no longer black from living in the dirty chimneys. Gradually the chimney soot was rinsed out of their feathers and revealed a magnificent blue-black top coat with a brilliant white edging and a white tail.

Bats are the only flying mammals. In The Netherlands and Belgium only the insect-eating species is to be found: they feed on large numbers of mosquitoes and moths. Due to an almost complete lack of flying insects in the winter they then go into hibernation mainly choosing caves or bunkers. They are very sensitive to any kind of disturbance and are slow to reproduce. Bats live by night and sleep by day. The house martin is a very common bird found in rural areas throughout Europe. You can recognize it by its white belly and the white strip on the lower part of its back, its rump. The relatively short tail is split. By contrast, the barn swallow’s tail is actually very long and split.

The house martin lives close to water (mosquitoes). It only ever lands to collect nesting materials which it finds in muddy pools and ponds. This is how it cements its nest to the wall. They often build their nests in groups. Outside of the brooding season they live like the swifts: so high up in the air that we can hardly see them from the ground with the naked eye. They overwinter in the far south of Africa.


© Els Baars,

Post Author
Els Baars