Nestbox Diary - 2006

May (part 3)

The Growing Chicks

Week 2

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9 May - (The eighth day for all but one chick) - A dull but dry morning. Feeding continues, not at a frantic rate, but most of the food brought in seems to be large brownish caterpillars.


Here are the nestlings at 10.30am. It's now increasingly difficult to see pink, bare areas on their bodies as the feathers develop.




Here is one of those moments of excitement as a parent (in this case, mum) brings one of those caterpillars.



The feed is followed by the other responsibility of parenthood as she removes a faecal sac from the anus of a chick. At least these are conveniently packaged.

Just to the left of the chick's rear end you may just make out the stumpy growth that will become its tail feathers.



In this image, taken around 1.15pm, the chick looks rather like a character that might have been in 'The Lord of the Rings'!

I was surprised by the degree to which the skin around the ear stands proud of the head.



As the chicks grow, so the female has to make the nest cup larger to accommodate them.

After she delivers food, if there is no faecal sac to remove she will dive down into the nest cup, to the bottom where most of the extension work is going on at present. She is widening it while leaving the top still narrower, so that the chicks are spreading out (and making photography more awkward).

The result is that the nest no longer looks neat, and has that large mound towards the front, which must be useful to help hide the nestlings from would-be predators.


The problem with the nest modifications is that the rim becomes less stable, and when the adults bring food they have to take care where they put their feet.

Here, mum has brought a larva from which she appears to have removed the head. This was a process that we have often seen the Blue Tits carry out in the past, so it doesn't surprise me to see the Great Tits do the same.


This time it's the male's turn, bringing in a caterpillar, although I'm not sure if this is headless.

Any suggestions for the caterpillar's ID would be gratefully received.



Talking of identifying food, when I showed my son the photograph of the round object the male brought in on 6 May, he suggested that it could have been spider eggs (especially when he also saw the picture of the spider brought in on the 8th.



In this final picture from this afternoon, the chick has opened its eye - the first time I've seen this happen for this clutch of chicks.



A picture I took earlier and forgot to put in - a rather 'messy' shot, but it does show the state of the wing development today.




Tonight, the last feed was after 8pm, and since then the female has found it difficult to settle down. I suspect that part of the problem is associated with the way she has cleared the bottom of the nest.




When she snuggles down she disappears further than ever down into the nestcup, and as I look at her at 8.35pm even her tail has albeit disappeared!



10 May - (The ninth day for all but one chick) - A day on which it was difficult to get close-up pictures of the chicks as the nest cup changed shape each time that mum spent time in the nest.



As usual, a variety of foods was brought in, including caterpillars, like this brown one brought by dad,





and a green one brought by mum.




I saw several spiders brought in. Here, mum seems to offer it to one chick,




but then pushed it into the mouth of a chick that hadn't reached up as high.

Notice how the eyes are open in both of these images.


I also was what appeared to be a couple of pupae and at least one of those berry/spider egg  puzzle objects

I'm still only able to capture six of the nestlings in a photograph, and even this was a rare sight today as they disappeared under the 'overhangs' in the nest.


While heads were in sight for much of the time, it was almost impossible to photograph the rest of their bodies.



During a couple of extended sessions at the box, this was the only opportunity I have to record progress of their back feathers.



You need to look carefully at this picture to see a significant step forward  in the growth of the wing feathers. They are starting to unfurl at the ends.




Another close-up of a head. If you look  at the larger version, there is a second image as well.

The characteristic white cheeks of the Great Tit are now starting to show up, although the area around the ear is still almost bare.



Finally, a single opportunity to look at progress at the other end of the chick!

This one had just had a faecal sac removed by its mother. The chick's underside is still almost completely bars, except for the tracts of developing white feathers. However, its tail is developing well.



Tonight the female was back in the box soon after 8pm, and like last night she is still very restless at 8.30pm.


After 11pm the female was faced with a real dilemma. One of the nestlings produced a faecal sac and she was confused as to how to deal with it.

She spent some time at the entrance, looking out, but eventually opted for the clearly reluctant alternative - she ate it.



11 May - (The tenth day for all but one chick) - For much of today I wasn't paying attention to the nest, a combination of doing a favour for one of my sons, and having to deal with a computer that went on strike!).

During the morning a large lump of nest material next to the glass meant that for much of the time the chicks were hidden from the camera. By the time I could spend time watching the nest in the early evening that lump had completely disappeared, and here are a few pictures I took then.


Six chicks reach up as a reaction to the arrival of dad in this shot.

The tracts of developing white feathers show up well on the chick lucky enough to be the recipient of this caterpillar.




At this moment as dad is poised to remove a faecal sac, the chick is using its wings to support itself, and it shows how much the flight feathers have now developed.




Just one close-up shot tonight, showing the developing feathers in a bit more detail.




Tonight, the female is once again having trouble settling down.

She tries to settle in the nest cup, but chicks keep popping up around her, and it's not ling before she heads for the side of the nest again.

It's been another very warm day, and is 17C at the moment, so perhaps that doesn't help.



13 May - (The twelfth day for all but one chick) - I'm a bit disappointed to have missed a day in the diary, but all continues to go well in the box as the chicks' plumage develops quickly.

Yesterday was largely taken up with some essential jobs, and by the time I could have got down to the box it was too near light-out time in the box (now 7.45pm) so I decided to stay away.

Today, I have been able to spend some time watching. I found the female to be very nervous and I decided not to use the Canon 20D, so there are no close-up pictures.


I'll start with the first picture to definitely record all seven nestlings, recorded as one received a green caterpillar from mum.




When a parent arrives with food, the automatic reaction is to 'reach for the sky' with mouths wide open, but although their eyes are wide open they do not seem to register where the parent (mum, with another green caterpillar) is.

The chick on the foreground shows clearly how well developed are the two tracts of white feathers of its breast.



Here, the male has just pushed a spider into a chick's mouth.



The following pictures were taken after the female had been in the box for an extended period.

The male entered with a very large caterpillar.




His partner didn't move while he fed a chick.




She still didn't move as the chick struggled to swallow the oversized meal.



It was only when one of the nestlings  needed to produce a faecal sac did the female jump into action, leading to both parents getting a grip on the sac.

There was some hesitation before the male headed for the exit with the sac in his beak.



The nearest to a close-up today is this picture of these chicks in profile. The head is almost completely covered now, as are the ears, but notice how they still have the wispy down that they had when they hatched.




14 May - (The thirteenth day for all but one chick) - This is going to be the last week of Great Tit nest watching for this year, with fledging due after around 19-20 days (in 2004 it was 19 days)

On a largely overcast day, progress towards that goal has continued without problems, with the female a lot less stressed than yesterday, although I was still wary of taking too many liberties.

Not only do the chicks look like birds now, but they are becoming recognisable as Great Tits as their body feathers open out and cover more and more of the bare areas.

Here you can see the white cheeks (with ears hidden now) and the white patches at the nape of their necks.



Mind you, there is still some way to go before they can be mistaken for their mum!




With the weather still cool today, she continued to spend prolonged periods in the nest, working on the nest and picking up bits from the bottom.




More than once she was ensconced in the middle of the nestlings when the male arrived with food.

She would usually leave straight away after these visits.



Spiders and caterpillars continue to be top of the menu, but here the male appears to be giving a chick something from a birdtable or feeder.

At one visit it appeared that the female was trying to get a chick to accept what looked like a peanut. It appeared to break up during the efforts, which may have been a good thing!


There has been quite a bit of preening going on today, and I saw a couple of vigorous wing flapping sessions. Although I didn't manage to capture that on 'film', a couple of shots show how much progress the wing feathers have made.

In this first one notice also the tail - almost longer than dad's (which doesn't seem to have grown much these last couple of weeks)!



This second, rather 'messy' image shows more of the wing feathers, but also has the bonus of a foot in view (a rare treat!).




In this last image the chick is taking advantage of a gap in the feeding to rest, and probably digest food it received earlier.

Although the gape is still there, the sides of the mouth have become less prominent over the last couple of days as the beak itself becomes darker.

There is no sign of the ear now, and white the adult's white cheek reaches right up to the bottom of the eye, the chick has just a row of white 'eyelashes' at the moment!


Tonight the female seems to be mush more relaxed as she tries to rest, and is staying in the nest cup much more than on the previous few night ( having said that, she has just perched at the side of the box at 8.50pm.


15 May - (The fourteenth day for all but one chick) -

Today the nestlings look even more like Great Tits. They have been busy preening, and we have seen them hauling themselves out of the nest cup more and more through the course of the day.




It is quite amusing to watch them as they do this. Once up on the side of the nest, usually their eyes would close and (unless a parent arrived with food) they would slide slowly back into the cup.


Along with the preening I have seen numerous wing flapping trials during the day.

Normally appearing as a blur, the camera flash has 'frozen' the movement, and that allows us to see how the primary flight feathers are still only partially unfurled - not yet ready for take-off.




I saw a bit more variety in feeds brought to the nest today. Here, mum is providing a chrysalis,




and dad brings a peanut, which he has obviously been pecking at, possibly to reduce its size.

Obviously, someone in the neighbourhood is still putting out whole peanuts, despite all the advice against doing that.



It's still caterpillars that form the main part of the diet.

Even at this stage, this example seems rather large for a chick to swallow, but nevertheless it was devoured by the first one it was offered to.



I may be wrong, but it always seems that it's the head end that is pushed down into the chick's throat first.

Once that is gripped by the papillae that are all around the interior of the mouth, the adult wait to see if the chick can succeed in swallowing the whole thing. If it is having a problem then the adult pulls the caterpillar back out, although I would expect that, if the caterpillar has had its head removed,the action of the papillae ensures that some of the caterpillar's 'contents' are squeezed out.



At this stage, the adult has to be careful when retrieving food from deep in the chick's mouth.

The latter's developing beak is now long enough to damage its parent's eye as it shakes it head continuously during the feeding process.



Finally, a webcam image from last night, when mum was managing to stay in the nest cup with the nestlings. The bright disc on the right side of the box is caused by a neighbour's security light which, fortunately, doesn't come on too often!

Tonight at 8.45pm she is perched at the side of the box as a chick preens just below her.


Click on the images to see larger versions -

Next chapter - countdown to fledging

..   .Nest building...

Egg Laying ....Incubation......Hatching

The Chicks (week1)

2006 Nestbox Diary Index.