Nestbox Diary - 2007

April (part 3)-

The chicks have hatched 

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21 April - Hatching!

At 9.52am I caught a glimpse of the first egg cracking, and two minutes later mum lifted up this broken shell.

It was another five minutes before she headed out of the nest, allowing me to see the new chick for the first time.

The female Starling feeds one of her first two hatchlings



Egg #2 hatched at around 11.17am, and this picture shows mum feeding one of her new youngsters as the other begs for food.


The third chick has hatched, at 1.43pm


There was then a wait until 1.42pm before we saw the third egg hatch - in this picture you can still see the third, empty shell on the left of the group.



Discarded eggshells


When the first two eggs hatched, mum removed the main part of each shell, dropping them onto our driveway.

While the eggs appear to be speckled, they are actually plain blue - the spots can be wiped off using a damp tissue.


There are very audible chirps coming from them already as they try to call for food.

Mum, four chicks and two eggs this afternoon


I spotted the fourth hatchling soon after 3pm, although it was a while before I captured an image that shows mum, the four chicks and the two remaining eggs.




Interestingly, after dropping the first two shells just outside the box the mother must have taken the next two further a field as I can't find them.

Two chicks show off their downy hairstyle



Look carefully at this image and you will make out the fuzzy covering of down that the chicks have at this stage.



I read that during the first twelve days after hatching, Starling chicks increase in weight from 5gm to around 60gm, so we can expect the parents to be very busy indeed.  I have already see a caterpillar being delivered which disappeared almost immediately. To supplement the naturally available supplies I have mealworms ready to start putting out in the next couple of days.


The female Starling with her first five hatchlings22 April - I had a bit of a slow start, but by 8.45am this morning the fifth chick had hatched.

An hour later there is still one egg intact.


The male(left) and female Starlings take turns on the nest




It's good to note that as they wait for the final hatching, both parents continue to take turns to sit on the nest - the male is on the left.


All six chicks have now hatchedThe chick count remained at five all day until, some time after 6pm I spotted that the last shell had cracked open.

A little while afterwards I had my first chance to count heads, and in this image it is easy to spot the latecomer to the family, not yet able to reach as high as its siblings.

It was nearly 6.45pm before their mum removed the last shell from the box to end the first stage in the family's development.


Turning away from the Starlings for a moment, I've just had a e-mail from Ann in Bedfordshire who tells me that her House Martins have returned. It looks as though I need to start monitoring the Martins' nests more closely from now on.

With that in mind, I'm experimenting with a slightly large webcam image (it is now 480x360 pixels instead of 440x330 pixels) that I can subdivide into four so that it covers the Martins and Swift boxes as well as the Starlings as soon as I see any activity in the skies overhead. Please let me know if the increase in image size causes download problems.


23 April - My apologies to anyone who found a grey screen on the webcam first thing this morning - when I made last night's changes I omitted to refresh the software on my laptop.


Today has left me with a puzzle, have we lost a chick? During the first three hours or so, six chicks were frequently visible, as this image, captured at 9.07am shows.




However, as far as I can tell, the last time all six appeared together was around 9.38am, and for the rest of the day only the beaks of five chicks were ever visible at any one time, as in this image, captured at 10.16am.

In both images, the last chick to hatch is easily identifiable by its smaller gape!

Of course, it could be that there is always one that doesn't want a feed, so I shall have to watch again tomorrow morning when they should all be equally hungry!

Talking of food, I have gone through the day's recording and here are some figures:

Mum left the box at 5.45am and brought in two feeds by 6am. During the rest of the day (recorded up to 6pm) there were feeding visits and periods when mum sat on the chicks and the following list gives the numbers of feeds and the time spent sitting -

6-7am: 9 feeds; 19 minutes sitting

7-8am: 9 feeds; 20 min

8-9am: 5 feeds; 35 min

9-10am: 10 feeds; 17 min

10-11am: 9 feeds: 23 min

11-12am: 6 feeds; 22 min

12-1pm: 10 feeds; 22 min

1-2pm: 8 feeds; 17 min

2-3pm: 15 feeds; 17 min

3-4pm: 6 feeds; 26 min

4-5pm: 7 feeds; 22 min

5-6pm: 6 feeds; 26 min

The time spent sitting on the chicks may have be a response to today's weather, which  was overcast and damp , although the little rain that we had this morning barely damped down the dust. The daytime temperature didn't get above 16C, although last night's minimum was over 9C.


25 April -

In my last report I wondered about one missing chick - today there seems to be two 'missing', or at least I only see a maximum of four at any one time.

The trouble is, most of the time they remain in a fuzzy bundle deep in the nest cup, and the female continues to spend a great deal of time sitting on them. I will have to wait until they grow bigger. Having said that it's worth comparing this image with the previous one to see how much their mouths have grown.


While the Starlings and the Robins have been taking mealworms for the last few days, some Sparrows are also taking them away now, so we must have at least three sets of chicks around the house and garden. The Wren continues to go in and out of the nest in the Ivy, but there is no sign of the Swifts and House Martins as yet (although a bird did try to enter a Swift nest today - probably a Sparrow again).


27 April - A day of highs and a deep low.


First of all, the Starlings chicks continue to grow, or at least four of them do. At no time today did I see more than four chicks begging for food, and most of the time it was just three, so it looks increasingly likely that two chicks have died, although I have seen no sign of what might have happened to them.



Having appeared for the first time yesterday, the Swifts were much in evidence over us today., and I saw the first House Martins flying with them this afternoon.




In the early evening the Swifts were spending more time over us, and as I watched them one swooped down to the spot where they nested last year, in the corner of my neighbour's roof, surprising a sparrow as it did so

I grabbed my camera and waited. With the light starting to fail, a Swift made a couple more visits.




Then a Starling arrived looked around and disappeared around the corner.



Less than a minute later, a Swift returned, and as soon as it landed it was attacked by the Starling.

Most of what happened was hidden from me by the guttering, but it was obviously a vicious attack which went on for nearly half a minute with the Swift screaming and being forced along the gutter before being able to escape.

What I saw was very worrying and I will be watching closely to see if the Swifts continue to visit.

I cannot be sure that it was one of our nesting pair of Starlings, but I guess it probably was, and the attack was a response to a perceived threat to their young. 

When I look back at last year's diary, the Swifts were using the roof space while at the same time the Starlings were nesting in my Swift boxes, almost directly across the driveway, but that was much later, in May/June. Working backwards from the Starling chicks' fledging on 17 June, their egg laying must have started around 10 May. The Swifts had arrived six days prior to that, on 4 May, so they wouldn't have been seen as a threat, even though the nest sites were slightly closer to each other than they are this year.

I hope that having their nests tucked round the corner, the House Martins are not treated in the same way when they start to visit.

What happened this evening leaves me with plenty to think about before this time next year. With Spring getting earlier is this sort of clash is likely to occur more and more if resident birds nest sooner so that they already have chicks when the migratory species arrive?


30 April - Like the garden diary, I'm afraid the Starlings have been somewhat neglected this last couple of days. In that time the clutch has now dropped to three chicks.

There is food available. There appear to be plenty of insects about, and I scatter mealworms each day, so it seems an unnecessary loss.




However, while I haven't attempted to record every visit today, I have gone through the day's recording and as far as I can tell it seems to be only the female that is coming to the box. I can only assume that something has happened to the male, or he has simply deserted the family. If either is the case then it would go some way to explain the death of  some chicks.



On that subject, I found this dead chick on our veranda first thing this morning. I'm not sure if this is a Starling chick, let alone if it could be the most recent of the casualties.



Yesterday evening I spent an hour or so sitting outside to watch for the Swifts. Sure enough they started flying over us around 7pm, and although I didn't see any enter my neighbours' roof space, numerous low and very close passes were made, with no reactions for a Starling. That was reassuring after what happened three days ago. I didn't watch tonight, but I will get out again tomorrow.

I did see a couple of House Martins yesterday as well, but they stayed high up and I haven't seen any nest inspections as yet.

Click on the images to see larger versions -

2007 Nestbox Diary Index.....

Jan/Feb. March (nest building)...... April (egg laying/incubation).......... May