Nestbox Diary - 2006

May (part 4)

Countdown to fledging

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16 May - (The fifteenth day for all but one chick) - Today's report starts with an event last night which marks another step towards the end of this nesting story.

I was watching a program on TV and only keeping half an eye on the nestbox when, at around 10.10pm I saw the female at the entrance. One of her offspring had produced another late faecal sac and she was once again in a dilemma as to what to do with it.

Her movement had triggered a 'feed me' responses from a couple of the chicks and, to my amazement she popped the sac into one of the open mouths!




Unfortunately, the chick's response was to produce a faecal sac of its own ( another chick also produced one that was ignored) so mum was left with another sac to dispose of.


Again, she went to the entrance, looked out and then considered putting it down at the side of the nest.

Finally, and after understandable hesitation at the entrance, she left the box.

The previous night I cursed my neighbour's security light, but it may have been useful last night!



Anyway, this morning she reappeared at the entrance at around 5.09am, food in mouth, and since then it has been business as usual with numerous feeds by both parents before the lights came on at 6.45am.

Just looked back through my diaries - while the Great Tit mum stayed with the nestlings right up to fledging in 2004, the Blue Tit chicks were alone for four or five nights before fledging started.


For anyone who called in this morning, hoping to watch the webcam, I'm afraid there was a technical hitch - my Router died. In this case, tlc wasn't enough and a quick trip to PCWorld was required to replace the Router. Things should be back to normal now (1.20pm).


It's been the most vocal day for the nestlings so far. Here, all seven are ready to greet one of their parents who is at the entrance.



Quiet periods gave opportunities to see how much their plumage is now providing almost complete cover over heads and backs.



More and more you could see individuals reaching out beyond the rim of the nest cup to stretch themselves,



and preening was an important activity,




as was wing flapping. The flight feathers on this chick have unfurled more than those pictured yesterday.



A good few feeds were conducted from the entrance today. In this shot a small green caterpillar is on offer to the chick that reaches furthest.




Of course, after a feed the parent would have to wait for any faecal sacs that might appear. They would try to collect it while still in the entrance, but inevitably they would then have to enter the box to turn around before leaving again.



Mum did spent some time in the box during the day, but rather less than on previous days.

Recorded by the cctv camera, here she has brought in a moth.



We had a couple of showers this afternoon and during them mum decided to take an easy option and bring in Sunflower Kernels from one of our feeders.

The adults regularly feed at these but this is the first time I've seen the chicks being fed with them.



When it was fine again she resumed her hunting, although I did see another peanut brought in. Like the last one, it had been pecked at. She put it into the mouth of one chick and then puts bits into a couple of other beaks. Then she retrieved the nut and took it out again, bringing it in again with more pecked off.


As sunset moves further north, this evening saw a 'false dawn' in the box as the light from the setting sun was reflected off a neighbour's window.



This evening the nestlings were being left largely to themselves. Mum has just been in briefly (and without food, much to the disappointment of the chicks) at 8.35pm for the first time since before 8pm. Another equally brief visit followed at 8.40pm before she came in at 8.45pm and is now trying to settle down at just before 9pm while around her, nestlings are busy preening themselves!



17 May - (The sixteenth day for all but one chick) - Mum stayed in the box last night. Several faecal sacs were produced but they were put to the side of the nest, and it was 4.52am before mum decided to take one out of the box.

As she left the chicks reacted to the sound of someone at the entrance and bolted upright with beaks wide open (lower-right image).

Their mother didn't return until 5.28am when she brought the first feed, followed minutes later by her partner.


Today has been the noisiest yet in the box, with the chicks greeting many food deliveries with great outbursts of energy, as here when their mum (back-left) brought in a small green caterpillar.




Another enthusiastic welcome greeted the delivery of a looper caterpillar.




Here is a true family group, with all seven nestlings and both parents.




In this shot it's a case of spot mum as dad is the centre of attraction for the hungry chicks.



Between all the activity there are periods of calm when the chicks even find time to close their eyes.




However, the need to tend to the developing feathers means that there is also a lot of preening to be done, and of course, the testing of wings.  Much more of the flight feathers is now unfurled.



In this second wings picture you can see the feathers attached to the bird's thumb. These groups of feathers are called the Alula and I understand are used like flaps, extended during slow flight to help prevent stalls.



This evening has been wet, and the female was in the box early, before 8pm. Soon after 9pm one of the chicks produced a faecal sac. At first mum, who was right next to the chick, ignored it, but a few minutes later she retrieved it from the nest cup and put it next to the glass.

Then, at 9.15pm she suddenly decided to take it out of the box. I wondered if that would be the last we'd see of her tonight, but two minutes later the nestlings were up to greet her.


At 9.50pm she is still here, surrounded by her offspring, although I don't expect a cosy scene like this to last too long.

Last night there were chicks preening on and off all night.




18 May - (The seventeenth day for all but one chick) - Just a day or so from fledging now.

The chicks were active long before 4.35am, but that was when the day started form mum as she left the nest after another very restless night.

As the right-hand image shows, the reaction of the chicks was to leap up as she left. Any movement at the entrance means food to them.



They had to wait nearly half an hour before mum returned with the first feed of the day. It appears to be a sunflower kernel, something that was a frequent foodstuff today.

She brought several more in over the next few minutes before dad turned up, also with the same food.


There seemed to be far fewer large caterpillars on offer today, but nevertheless every arrival was greeted with enthusiasm by at least a couple of the nestlings.





This much more low key greeting included six of the seven chicks, with the seventh (bottom-centre) obviously full after an earlier feed.


Even in this picture of them there is an odd one out, with its eyes closed as the others anticipate a parent's arrival after a call from outside.




As usual, there were quiet periods when most of them rested, and this chick headed for the corner



where it could do a bit of preening, concentrating on its flight feathers.





As well as preening, there was also a lot of wing stretching going on during the day,



and of course, the wing testing. Fortunately, they take turns to do this (probably more by accident than design) so collisions are avoided.




For the last picture today I have to return to a food delivery, of one of the few large caterpillars I've seen brought in today.

I can't help imagining them as a singing group putting on a performance - Pop Idol look out!



During the afternoon I left my minidisc recorder next to the box. If you click in the link below you can listen to a sample of the noise that the chicks make when a parent brings food. Listen carefully and you may make out the moment four seconds into the recording when the adult enters the box, and then twelve seconds later when she leaves. Once she has left only a couple of the chicks continue to chirp as the others settle down to wait for the next visit. You'll also here the effect of the wind on the bamboo plants just outside, and the Blackbird singing on top of the conifers.

Click here to listen to the chicks

I'll be adding a link from the sounds page when I have time in the next day or so.


19 May - (The eighteenth day for all but one chick) - The weather prospects are not brilliant for the next couple of days blustery with rain, some heavy.

Last night was surprisingly peaceful, with mum and her brood getting quite a bit of rest.

The first faecal sac was deposited at the side of the nest before 11.30pm (top image), but it wasn't until just after 4am that mum decided to deal with it. After some hesitation she left the box at 4.06am with virtually no reaction from the nestlings.



It was around 4.30am that the camera started detecting first light, and around this time the chirping was also starting, although the first feed wasn't to come until 5am.

It looks like a sunflower kernel again.



The occasional preening had gone on during the night, but with very little in the way of wing stretching, and no flapping.

However, just before mum returned, one of the chicks suddenly started wing tests and, although difficult to make out in this image, it almost took off as it travelled across the nest!



Since then, feeding has gone on regularly. At just after 8.20am I wondered for a moment as this chick hopped nearer the exit to take a long look, the first time I've seen one doing this, and a sure sign that fledging is now getting very close.


With the chicks very agitated for much of the time I have decided to stay away from the box until at least the end of the afternoon.

At 1.08pm, and while dad was in the box I saw this youngster head for the entrance for the first time. It looked out, paused, and then rejoined its siblings.



Well, this evening we still have a full house, and they are noisier than ever for much of the time,



although it's funny how they will quite suddenly go into quiet mode. Even then, there is usually one that needs to preen.

As usual, the preening includes work on the wings and especially the flight feathers.




Wing stretching usually requires the chick to get up above the others, even if it means standing on them,



and it's a case of heads down and eyes closed when one of the brood tests its wings.

This set of flight feathers appears to be more or less ready for action,



and several times today (as I first reported this morning) the wing flapping became flight testing as a chick lifted clear of the rest, if only for a moment or two.

It didn't happen while I was taking photographs, but the webcam caught one chick as it appeared briefly to aim for the exit.

Today I've hardly seen any large caterpillars brought in.  I can't tell whether less food was brought in today, but it was certainly being brought in in small amounts on most visits

In fact, on quite a few visits, mum (and perhaps dad) appears to have come in 'empty-beaked'. She has just popped in, as in this photograph, looked at the chicks, sometimes taken a faecal sac and then left again.




Here's mum just after giving a chick just a very small morsel of something which left it calling for more.




In this picture dad has just fed the chick on the right and it is just about to present its rear end to him.




This evening at just after 8pm the rain is pouring down outside, and mum seems to have decided to join her offspring early (for the moment), and I've just noticed that I didn't return the cctv camera to its correct position after I had moved it to take today's photographs. If mum goes out again I'll go and move it back.

She is still there are 8.45pm so the camera may have to stay where it is until the morning.



20 May - (The nineteenth day for all but one chick) - Another blustery morning with sunshine and showers, and cool (it was just under 10C at 9am).

After last night's picture of the mum and her offspring snuggled down for the night it came as a surprise (but perhaps it shouldn't have) when I reviewed the early video, starting at 4am, to see that mum had left during the night.

She made her first appearance with food at just after 5.10am. Shortly before she entered the box the chicks had reacted to something outside by dropping down flat in the nest, and were just recovering when she arrived.


During the day they chicks were active almost constantly and, like yesterday, I stayed away from the box except for a brief visit at the end of the afternoon.

From early on there were chicks taking a good look at the exit, and several actual visits to it

This one had me thinking that fledging was starting, but the chick had second thoughts and returned to the fold!

While there were other visits as the day progressed, this was the nearest any of them got to taking that big step.



There were quite a few flight tests during the day. On this occasion the chick didn't stop at the entrance but simply dropped back down.




This one caught me by surprise as I concentrated on the lower half of the box!





This chick was simply flapping its wings and didn't take off.




During my time at the box I only photographed one visit by a parent (mum), it seemed, nothing in its beak.




As the day progressed it was increasingly obvious that we are going to have to wait another night before fledging starts.

From time to time they would form into (almost) a circle, making it convenient to count heads. This was something we have seen in the past with the Blue Tits.



Tonight the chicks are alone. Mum brought in a sunflower kernel at around 7.55pm and left straight away.

When she had left the chicks once again formed a circle, but a minute or so later that was broken as one headed for the exit for a brief look out.

There was another check of the outside world about ten minutes later.


As they started to settle down, a couple of chicks produced faecal sacs which will have to wait until the morning before mum will remove them.



I would be very surprised if at least some of the chicks do not fledge tomorrow. The forecast is not good, with heavy rain promised for the morning followed by blustery showers.


Click on the images to see larger versions -

Next page - Fledging

Nest building

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

The Chicks (week1)

The Chicks (week2)

2006 Nestbox Diary Index.