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A photo of a Mascarene Martin (Phedina borbonica)
Mascarene Martin

Mascarene Martin

Phedina borbonica

The Mascarene martin, Phedina borbonica, is a small, nimble swallow of the family Hirundinidae. Exhibiting a modest palette of grey-brown underparts that transition to white at the throat and lower abdomen, this bird is adorned with a striking pattern of heavy black streaks. Its upperparts are a darker shade of grey-brown, and it possesses a slightly forked tail, edged with white on the undertail coverts. The wings are a dusky blackish-brown, and both the bill and legs are black, with dark brown eyes completing the ensemble.

Identification Tips

Adults measure approximately 15 cm in length, with a wingspan averaging 117 mm. The bill length is about 11.3 mm. Sexual dimorphism is not pronounced in this species, leaving males and females looking quite similar. Juveniles can be discerned by their more diffuse breast streaking and white-tipped wing feathers. The Madagascan subspecies, P. b. madagascariensis, is paler and larger-billed than its nominate counterpart, with denser streaking on the breast and finer lines on the lower abdomen and undertail.

Habitat

The Mascarene martin is versatile in its choice of breeding habitats, which range from ledges and buildings to tunnels, caves, and rocky outcrops. It is found at elevations from sea level to 1,500 meters, favoring areas that provide sheltered sites for nest construction.

Distribution

This species breeds in Madagascar and the Mascarene Islands, with the nominate subspecies residing on Mauritius and Réunion. The Madagascan subspecies is migratory, wintering in East Africa and occasionally wandering to other Indian Ocean islands.

Behaviour

The flight of the Mascarene martin is characterized by heavy wingbeats interspersed with glides. It is often seen perched on wires and is known to roost in small flocks in various natural and man-made structures.

Song & Calls

The Mascarene martin's vocal repertoire includes a warbled "siri-liri siri-liri" song and a "chip" contact call. Young birds emit a rapid twittering when begging for food.

Breeding

Breeding occurs during the wet season, with nesting taking place from August to November in Madagascar and from September to early January on Mauritius and Réunion. The nest is a shallow cup of twigs and plant material, and the typical clutch consists of two or three brown-spotted white eggs. Incubation and fledging periods remain undocumented.

Similar Species

The lesser striped swallow is larger with a deeply forked tail and a distinct plumage of dark blue upperparts, a red rump, and a chestnut head. The brown-throated sand martin has a similar structure but lacks the streaked underparts of the Mascarene martin. The Mascarene swiftlet, with its lighter flight and longer, narrower wings, can also be distinguished from the martin.

Diet and Feeding

Insects form the bulk of the diet, with the martin catching beetles, bugs, and flying ants mid-flight. It hunts at various altitudes and habitats, including woodlands, agricultural areas, and deforested regions.

Conservation status

The Mascarene martin is classified as Least Concern by the IUCN. While tropical cyclones pose a threat, particularly to the smaller island populations, the species is currently abundant on Mauritius and Réunion, and locally common in Madagascar. Legal protection varies across its range, with Mauritius offering the most stringent penalties for harm to the species.

Mascarene Martin Sounds


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