The Bird Box Diary
Incubating the Eggs - 2002
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21 April - No More eggs! this morning our BT mum was awake around 5.30am, some forty minutes after the dawn chorus started. Periods of shuffling about and rest alternated for the next 23 minutes before she left the box at 5.53am with no more eggs laid.
There was a gap until 6.20am before she reappeared, bringing in the first delivery (a tiny amount) of straw. Between then and 7.59am she made twleve more deliveries of straw and feathers before settling down on the eggs. At 8.15am and again 6 minutes later she was startled by the appearance of a Starling at the entrance. These were visiting the Birch tree to tear off bark to use in nest building - there again at 8.55 and 9.25am.
Her reaction to the visits is to make prolonged 'squawking' sounds, flap her wings 'explosively' and fan her tail feathers, as shown in this webcam image, captured during one of the incidents.
Between 8am and 1pm she left the box fourteen times, usually for just 2-3 minutes at a time, with the occasional longer trip. During the same period she was fed in the box just twice. While I was at the bottom of the garden taking a photograph of the Blackbird fledgling, I watched the male BT feed his partner in the Birch tree -the camera's autofocus was completely fooled by the branches!
The picture on the right is of mum preening in the Hawthorn during an early evening break from incubation duties.
As I write this entry ( a bit of a dis-jointed day causing the delay), she is well and truly tucked down for the night amongst the feathers.
22 April - Today mum has settled into an incubation routine.
She first showed signs of activity around 5.30am, although she did not really get going until 5.55am when she started to tug on the materials around the edge of the nest cup. Two minutes later, she pulled herself out from the nest cup and left the box for what turned out to be the longest absence of the morning, 34 minutes. When she returned she brought with her a large, downy feather.
It was 6.57am that she left the box on the first of twenty excursions between then and 1pm. Each trip lasted between 2 and 10 minutes and added up to about 105 minutes away from the nest in 6 hours. I only saw a couple of bits of nesting material brought in all morning.
In the next six hours, until she settled in for the night, soon after 7pm, she left the box another 17 times lasting a total of 163 minutes. The longest absence was for 26 minutes in the late afternoon.
A look back over the whole day shows that in the 12 hours of activity today she was away from the nest for a total of nearly 4.5 hours - she sat on the eggs for nearly two thirds of the day, as well as the twelve hours through the previous night.
The male only brought food into the box once during the afternoon, although he did bring some three times after 5pm.
The late afternoon saw a bit of drama in the box. The picture sequence shows a moment of fatal miscalculation by the resident spider when it decided to descend from the roof to nest level.
Once the spider was spotted, the Blue Tit simply had to wait for it to come within easy reach, without her having to get up off the eggs.
23 April - Nothing unusual to report today, and everything seems to be going well. As I write this at 7.45pm Mum is well and truly snuggled down in the nest cup and looks just like a dark ball of fluff surrounded by feathers.
Her breathing is down to around 65 breaths/minute, although her breathing is not completely regular. Every few breaths she seems to have what I can only describe as a 'double breath' - it seems to be two shallow intakes of air in quick succession.
24 April - A nothing to report day today. Everything seems to be going along well and as I write this the webcam shows an image identical to the one featured yesterday - except that she has just been disturbed by something causing an itch!
25 April - The wait continues, with nothing unusual to report today.
What I did find out was that the progress of the Blue Tit family is being watched, not only by individuals from many parts of the World, but also by children in schools in Hampshire (9 year olds) and in the Rhondda, South Wales ( 3-5 year olds - who like it best when mum leaves the nest so that they can see the eggs!).
Hatching, which normally takes place three weeks after the start of egg laying, should happen between 2 - 4 May, hopefully on the Thursday (2nd) or Friday(3rd) so that the children can get to see the first chick.
26 April - This webcam image is one of a number that captured moments of 'togetherness' today as the male brought food to his partner. It gives us a chance to compare the boldness of their head markings. In what was mainly infra-red light the male's colouring is much darker that that of his partner.
She settled down for the night quite early and the male made a series of visits around 7pm - the latest I saw was at 7.14pm.
28 April - Having had a day off yesterday ( me, not the Blue Tits!), I thought that today I would try to give a more detailed report on progress.
Today has been one of April showers and cool temperatures. Our BT mum did not stir until about 5.20am, by which time the male could be heard singing, although not very near the box. She left the box for the first time at 5.41am for a four minute break. After that, she left the box another 23 times before 1pm, for a total of 96 minutes. In the afternoon she made another nine excursions, totalling 39 minutes before 5pm. The evening saw only four more trips away from the box, for a total of 18 minutes and there were no further visits to the box by the male.
In total, out of the 13hr 27m (807minutes) between first exit and last return today she spent a total of just 153 minutes away from the nest in 37 trips - about 1/5 of the day.
We have seen quite a lot of the male today, although he didn't make his first appearance until after 9am (more about that visit later). During the day (up to 5pm) he fed his partner 21 times. In addition he brought food into the box 3 times when his partner was absent. At one of those visits she returned and was fed as she came in through the entrance.
As the male entered on his first visit at 9.03am the female was already out of the nest cup in response to his call. He landed at the right front corner and she stood, chirping, wings vibrating rapidly at the back of the box, reaching across to take the food from his beak.
Her wings continued to vibrate as she moved to the left side. He moved round behind her and mounted her to mate. Both had wings vibrating furiously and noisily for several seconds until she moved away to the right.
They both paused, wings still vibrating and with the food still held in her beak.
Then he took the food from her, and she took it back from him again( by now only her wings continued to vibrate).
This swapping of the food was repeated another four times before she finally ate it and stopped vibrating her wings. The last swop was almost a tug-of-war!
Both birds left immediately afterwards.
29 April - Yesterday's details about time spent away from the box have now been been updated. I am not trying to repeat that today.
What has struck me in the times I have been watching is her continued behaviour when returning to the nest. At least once today she has brought food into the box, called, and looked down into the nest cup as though she is expecting a chick to respond. Also there have been further instances where the pair have 'played' with food that the male has brought in, in a far less dramatic way than the behaviour seen yesterday.
I have now reorganised the Bird Box Diary for the second half of April to reflect the distinct stages of egg laying and incubation. I think I have altered all relevant links - please let me know if there is something I have missed.
While the female is spending most of her time in the dryness of the box, the male has to put up with the wet conditions. The picture shows his soggy plumage as he collects a mealworm, delivering it to his partner less than a minute later.
Click on the image to see a larger version
I have looked through this morning's video recording to see if the cold, wet weather has had any effect on the amount of time spent in the box. The first activity seen this morning was the arrival of the male with food at 5.52am. He returned twice more before the female left the box for the first time at 6.28am. Between then and 1pm she left the box 16 times, for a total of 69 minutes, appreciably less than on the 28th. During the same time the male brought food to the box 17 times. These were all straight-forward deliveries, with none of the rituals seen in the last two days.
Between 1pm and 7pm another 12 excursions took mum out of the box for a total of 71 minutes. Up until about 4pm the trips averaged 4-5 minutes. After 4pm the weather had eased and the remaining 6 trips averaged about 7-8 minutes.
The total 'away time' for the day comes to 140 minutes, in 28 trips - only 13 minutes less than on the 28th.
1 May - With the incubation period coming to an end, today has been business as usual, with the female leaving the box every 20-30 minutes for short trips and the male bringing mealworms to her.
Earlier this evening I managed to take advantage of her absence to get the glass changed and make a slight camera adjustment just in case hatching starts tomorrow.
I have been watching the nest when mum was absent, but I still have not established the total number of eggs present. As in this picture, 7 is the most I have definitely seen at any one time.
2 May - Twenty days since the first egg was laid and the eggs are still intact tonight. The average length of incubation is 21 days, so tomorrow may be the big day!
The weather today has been good, if slightly cool. This webcam image was captured during the female's last (and quite late) outing of the day. A careful look through the veil of feathers reveals eight eggs, but I have received an e-mail from the Netherlands where a visitor to the site assures me that she saw all nine eggs a couple of days ago.