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View of Mt Blanc from Val Thorens

Crag martins

Crag martin

Crag martin, Val Thorens, French Alps

Crag martins in the Alps.

Crag martins: classification

The crag martin (Ptyonoprogne rupestris) belongs to the family of swallows and martins (Hirundinidae).

Crag martins: distribution

Crag martins are present all year round in parts of Spain, southern Europe, and north Africa. Those that come to the French Alps to breed will leave in winter.

Crag martins: description & behaviour

Crag martin resting

Crag martin resting

Like other swallows and martins, crag martins are adapted for life in the air, catching insects by fast, agile flight.

They are brown in colour, and greyish brownish white on the breast. The covert feathers of the wings are dark, and there are small, white 'windows' on the tail feathers.

Crag martins nest in caves, and cavities on cliff faces.

In Val Thorens, a pair nested on the underside of a raised passageway. They defended their nest by 'buzzing' or dive-bombing people (and dogs) walking on the road underneath, where they felt that these potential predators were too close. This involved repeatedly flying within centimetres of the person's head, while making a characteristic 'tshir' sound.

Similarly, Alpine choughs nesting nearby were successfully harried and chased away when they took an interest in the crag martin nest.

All photos © ValThorensGuide

Snow finches

Snow finch on Mont de la Chambre

Snow finches are amongst the most attractive of Alpine birds, familiar to skiers who frequent mountain restaurants. In French, they are called niverolles. They are not true finches, but actually members of the sparrow family.

Snow finches are usually found between 2,000 and 3,000m altitude, in the Alps, in other mountain ranges in Europe and Turkey, and in the Himalayas.

Read about snow finches.

Alpine animals & birds

Marmotte

There are many beautiful animals and birds living in the Alps, including mountain hares, marmots, and snow finches.

Read about Alpine animals and birds.

Mountain hareMarmotte, Val ThorensPtarmigan near Pralognan

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