Thai National Parks

Birds of Thailand

Species of Thailand

Brown-throated martin

Binomial name: Riparia paludicola, Louis Jean Pierre Vieillot, 1817

The brown-throated martin or brown-throated sand martin (Riparia paludicola) is a small passerine bird in the swallow family. It was first formally described as Hirundo paludicola by French ornithologist Louis Vieillot in 1817 in his Nouveau Dictionnaire d'Histoire Naturelle. It was formerly regarded as conspecific with the grey-throated martin (R. chinensis) under the name "plain martin".

It has a wide range in Africa. It is a partially migratory species, with some populations making seasonal movements. It is usually associated closely with water as its specific epithet paludicola suggest.

The brown-throated martin is colonial in its nesting habits, with many pairs breeding close together, according to available space. The nests are at the end of tunnels of 30 to 60 cm in length, bored in sandbanks. The actual nest is a litter of straw and feathers in a chamber at the end of the burrow. Two to four white eggs are the normal clutch, and are incubated by both parents.

Its brown back, small size and quicker, jerkier flight separate brown-throated martin at once from most other members of the swallow family. It is most similar to the sand martin, Riparia riparia , which is its northern counterpart.

The 12 cm long brown-throated martin is brown above and white or pale brown below. It lacks the narrow brown band on the breast shown by the sand martin; the bill is black and the legs are brown. Sexes are similar, but the young have pale tips to the feathers on the rump and wings.

The races differ in size and plumage tones of the upperparts or underparts.

  • R. p. paludicola, southern Africa. White underparts.
  • R. p. paludibula, western Africa. Smaller and darker above than the nominate form.
  • R. p. ducis, eastern Africa. Smaller and darker above and below than the nominate subspecies.
  • R. p. mauretanica, Morocco. Small and pale.
  • R. p. newtoni, mountains of Cameroon only. Darker above than the nominate form, brownish underparts.
  • R. p. cowani, Madagascar. Small, greyish underparts.

The food of this species consists of small insects, mostly gnats and other flies whose early stages are aquatic.

The twittering song of brown-throated martin is continuous when the birds are on the wing, and becomes a conversational undertone after they have settled in the roost. There is also a harsh alarm call.

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Scientific classification

Riparia paludicola

Common names

  • English:
    • African sand martin
    • Brown-throated martin
    • Brown-throated sand martin
    • Plain martin
  • French: Hirondelle paludicole


  • Riparia paludicola cowani, Richard Bowdler Sharpe, 1882

    Range: Madagascar. Small, greyish underparts.

  • Riparia paludicola ducis, Anton Reichenow, 1908

    Range: Eastern Africa. Smaller and darker above and below than the nominate subspecies.

  • Riparia paludicola mauritanica, Edmund Gustavus Bloomfield Meade-Waldo, 1901

    Range: Morocco. Small and pale.

  • Riparia paludicola newtoni, David Armitage Bannerman, 1937

    Range: Mountains of Cameroon only. Darker above than the nominate form, brownish underparts.

  • Riparia paludicola paludibula, Wilhelm Peter Eduard Simon Rüppell, 1835

    Range: Western Africa. Smaller and darker above than the nominate form.

  • Riparia paludicola paludicola, Louis Jean Pierre Vieillot, 1817

    Range: Southern Africa. White underparts.

Conservation status

Least Concern (IUCN3.1)

Least Concern (IUCN3.1)

Range Map