Over a period of 18 years sand martins (Riparia riparia) were displaced from their breeding colonies and released to investigate the relationship between distance of displacement and initial orientation. The results show significant homeward orientation at the shortest distances of displacement (7.1-18.2 km, series A), but not over longer distances (49-180 km, series B and C). Birds displaced over 49 km from their breeding colonies only seldom show homeward directedness, while pseudo-pooling and second order analysis of their directional choices seem to indicate the tendency to fly in a given compass direction. Possible causal factors that can induce this behaviour in sand martins are discussed, taking into account not only local biasing factors but also the existence of a so called preferred compass direction. These data show that sand martins are able to determine the correct homing direction inside a probably familiar area. The response over longer distances indicates difficulties in determining the appropriate homing course at takeoff.