Egg Laying (Part 1) - April 2004
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11 April - This morning saw behaviour which suggests that our female may have laid her first egg. I need to spend more time replaying my video recording a few more times to be sure.
She had entered the box for the first time at 6.42am, bringing nothing with here. She returned twice more, with dried fine grass before entering at 6.56am and started to arrange the materials around the nest cup. her work was accompanied by a series of quiet, 'twittering' calls short bursts of 3-6 sounds.
After about 2½ minutes later she settled down facing North-East and became quiet. When she first settled she was breathing at a rate of about 96b/m but that soon increased to around 115b/m and became much heavier, with her beak open as she breathed deeply.
At 7.01am a noise on the roof caused her to press herself down into the nest but otherwise not change her position. A couple of minutes later she uttered a couple of quiet chirps, which I think were responded to by the (unseen) male. Just afterwards, around 7.04am, her body seems to have been held at a more acute angle to the nest (and her tail) and I suspect that, if an egg was laid, this could have been the moment. I have been listening closely to the sound on my recording, but I cannot make out anything resembling the clicking that I heard when the Blue Tits were egg laying - that made it easy to pin-point the moment!
Then she pulled some of the dried grass towards her and uttered a couple of more definite short, sharp calls. She manipulated the nest material a few more times before the webcam image above was captured, moments before she left.
As I am writing this report at 9.20am, we have just seen the male in the box for the first time in two days, and another brief encounter as his partner entered with more dried grass. During the meeting, neither went down into the nest cup.
As I add this to the diary at 7.45pm the nest is empty. If an egg had been laid this morning I would have expected the female to return to the box overnight, but there is no sign of this so far.
Sheila and I have looked carefully at the video of this morning's event and we are convinced that she was at the very least going through the egg-laying sequence, based on our observations of the Blue Tits.
In fact, during the few visits that took place later in the morning she seemed to be taking care about something in the cup area, inspecting the spot very carefully a couple of times (see picture) and avoiding standing in the cup.
A very early start this morning with the female appearing for the first time at 6.13am, before the daytime lighting switched on.
She stayed for about 1½ minutes, during which time she had a brief shuffle of the nest (pic4)
She returned to the box within half a minute.
This time she again had one of her shuffles, and momentarily seemed ready to leave again, the early morning light catching the top of her head as she looked out, but then she settled down in the nest.
This went on until 6,22am when she responded to a call from outside with several bursts of sharp, rather quiet chirps. Then she settled down, facing North as in these pictures, although she continued to answer her partner.
By 6.24 her beak was open and she was breathing fast (about 130b/m) and heavily. Her body was obviously straining, and as her head moved closer to the wall her rear end rose up. Her breathing slowed drastically to about 70b/m.
Moments later she chirped quite loudly and her body relaxed and she sank back into the nest cup. She didn't rest for long before she was head down inspecting the unseen egg.
For the next four minutes she rotated herself in all directions as she pulled materials from the sides of the box toward the nest cup before leaving the box at 6.31am.
She made three brief appearances before 7.23am and although a bird appeared at the entrance some seven times, she did not visit the nest again up to 10am.
There is a gap in my records for a few hours, but at 1.38pm she started bringing in dried grass again, and the male appeared at the entrance at 1.40am.
She made little noise but, as the pictures show she flattened herself in the nest cup, spread both her wings and her tail feathers and raised herself up in a jerky way to threaten the intruder with her open beak.
She left the box briefly, but on her return the sparrow appeared again. This time her display was different. With her back to the entrance she spread her right wing only, moving it forward and out, and then swayed her body slowly from side to side, head held high and beak wide open.
After that bit of excitement she visited the box a number of times through the afternoon, bringing in small amounts of dried grass.
For much of the late afternoon it was just possible to see the top of the egg on the webcam. In this image you can see it as the female returned as she prepared to settle in for the night.
She didn't stay for long - here is a marginally better view of the egg as she returned a second time.
There were two more trips out before she finally decided to stay for the night, although it was a long time before she finally settled with her head under her wing and feathers fluffed up.
During the day I used a dental mirror to confirm the presence of the egg(s) and could only see the one. Yesterday's behaviour still puzzles me. It was almost as though she was having a 'practice run'!
13 April - Egg #2
The female was already out of the box when the video started recording at 6am, but she returned at about 6.11am. After spending time turning round and pulling materials towards the nest cup she settled into an egg-laying posture (facing NE) at 6.21am.
The egg was laid at 6.24am and she had left the nest by 6.30am.
The picture shows as she left after her first return visit. In addition to the bright reflections of welcome morning sunshine you can just see the tops of the two eggs.
During the day she brought in a number a fair amount of soft nesting.
This evening, her early start seems to have caught up with her as she was already settled down for the night before the timer switched off the white light at 7.30pm.
This gave us a chance to see more clearly the fluffed up feathers as she tucked her head under her wing.
14 April - Well, if she laid an egg this morning it was too early for me! I started the recording at 5.45am. Although she appeared to be already awake (just about!) and occasionally adjusted the nest, time was still being spent with her head under her wing.
This image, at 5.57am shows her just before she left the box as outside the light levels had increased enough to improve the image on the camera (the white lights do not come on until 6.45am).
It wasn't until 6.43am that she reappeared, with a beak full of dried grass. She returned another three times in the next eight minutes. Each visit lasted only long enough to deposit her load.
Just to illustrate the difference that the lights make, this image shows her making another delivery a few minutes later (6.51am). The change is quite small, with the biggest difference occurring once the sun rises.
Her next appearance did not happen until 8.25am, when the sun had already been shining into the box for quite some time. Again, it was a brief visit and I have not seen her since (written at 9.10am).
Several visits, spread throughout the day saw more 'soft stuff' brought in and then she started her settling down process when she appeared at 6.55pm. She settled down quite quickly and even fluffed up her feathers and tucked her head under her wing.
It didn't last and has been out of the box several times since. At 7.40pm she has just returned for the fourth time.
These early starts will get the better of me! This morning, a bad case of pollen allergy had me up from bed at around 5.30am, beating the GT! The recording shows that she was restless by 5.20am, but she didn't start waking properly until around 5.35am. It was another ten minutes before she was moving around in the nest, and at 5.48am a wing stretch (see pic) was the prelude to egg laying.
Shortly after that bit of exercise she settled down, facing North (pic 1). After a pause of about ¼minute she suddenly raised herself up, turned towards the front of the box (East), partially spread her wings, raised her tail and laid the egg (at 5.49am) so fast the camera more or less missed it (pics 2-4)!
After only a brief pause and another wing stretch (pic1) she was up and looking out (pic 2 -the dawn chorus had been going on for a long time before I got up).
A last quick check of the clutch (pic 3) and she was on her way out.
As usual, there were a small number of
further visits during the day. I took advantage of her absences to put in
clean glass and take another picture of the nest.
This evening, her first appearance was at 6.46pm. She seemed to settle down very quickly, and soon had her head under her wing.
The time & date on these images are added by a device that I have just bought on eBay to make it easier for me to match events to the time when I replay videos. The time code also appears on the video feed into my computer.
Anyway, back the the Great Tit. This webcam image shows her inspecting the eggs with, unusually, her feathers still fluffed up. In fact, they were still like this when she left the box moments later.
She returned at 7.06pm and this time she stayed, settling down for the night very quickly.
Click on the images to see larger versions
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