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Marvel of the house martin

Thought for the weekend

Allen Sleith, Hillsborough Presbyterian Church

A few weeks ago, on Easter weekend to be exact, I made a note in my diary that the swifts had returned to our neighbourhood. On doing a little more research I might need to tweak that slightly - they're house martins, I think, not swifts. Along with swallows, these three species are among the most welcome of birds, harbingers of winter past and spring waxing into summer.

Many a Saturday afternoon I enjoyed playing cricket and often enough the lull between balls would be filled with the sight of our summer visitors skimming low over the outfield in the most spectacular of aerial acrobatics, feeding on insects on the wing.

Indeed, one of the more astounding facts about swifts is that they rarely, if ever, sleep and when they do so it's by taking (no pun intended) 'cat-naps' as they're still flying - companions to God, who, according to the psalmist 'neither slumbers nor sleeps'.

But it's the migratory feats of these birds that really astound. They're only here for three or four months during the summer and then they return to such far-flung places as west or north Africa. Given how light and small they are, that seems even more miraculous.

Furthermore, their pinpoint accuracy in returning, year after year to the same site or even nest, only serves to deepen the sense of wonder - how is it they don't wander or get driven way off course by severe weather or other hazards? Beats me!

At present, the house martins in our cul-de-sac are building a new nest under the eaves of our neighbour's roof.

Some of their nests from previous years are still intact, but this year we have a bird's eye view of the house martins bringing back wet mud which they then stick against a rough vertical wall. They ferry back and forth with awesome agility, industry and tenacity, slowly but surely building a structure that dries out to become a home for their young, so that the whole glorious circle of life will continue revolving.

Perhaps there's a parable there - they demonstrate the patient, vulnerable, even delicate way in which incremental attempts at constructing things of well-being and worth are what God inspires and expects of we human creatures too.

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