Riparia riparia (Sand martin) 

Europese oewerswael [Afrikaans]; Sisampamema (generic term for swallows, martins, swifts and spinetails) [Kwangali]; Nyenganyenga (generic name for swallow or martin) [Shona]; Oeverzwaluw [Dutch]; Hirondelle de rivage [French]; Europäische uferschwalbe [German]; Andorinha-das-barreiras-europeia [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Passeriformes  > Family: Hirundinidae

Riparia riparia (Sand martin)   

Sand martins, Portugal. [photo Jose Sousa ©]


Distribution and habitat

Its breeding grounds are in North America and Eurasia, moving south in the non-breeding season to South America, the Far East and sub-Saharan Africa. Here it is locally common from west to east Africa down to southern Africa but absent from much of the lowland equatorial forests of the DRC and the Congo. In southern Africa it is widely distributed but scarce, most common in the Caprivi Strip, Namibia and northern Botswana, but also occurring in Zimbabwe, Namibia and the eastern half of South Africa, rarely recorded in the Western Cape. It can be found in a variety of habitats, but it is most common in the marsh and grassland of the Okavango Delta, also occupying sewage works, grassland and Mopane (Colosphermum mopane) woodland.

Distribution of Sand martin in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Movements and migrations

Intercontinental migrant, arriving in southern Africa mainly in October extending into December, departing around March-April.


It eats flying insects, foraging close to vegetation or the water surface, sometimes in flocks with other swallows.


Not threatened.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town. 

  • Harrison, J.A., Allan, D.G., Underhill, L.G., Herremans, M., Tree. A.J., Parker, V. & Brown, C.J. (eds). 1997. The atlas of southern African birds. Vol. 2: Passerines. BirdLife South Africa, Johannesburg.


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