Nestbox Diary - 2007

March (Part 1)

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1 March - The Starling nestbox is now in place, and the Swift box has been modified.

Nestboxes on our houseThe Starling box has joined the Swift and Sparrow boxes on the North-facing wall of our house. Each of the two Starling nests has a floor size of 17 x 27cm, and the entrances are of the recommended 45mm diameter.

The new entrances on the Swift box are 130mm across and 30mm deep, as shown in the BTO's Nestbox Guide. I don't understand how I managed to make them much too big last year!

In 2006 we had House Martins, Starling and House Sparrows nest in the boxes on the house, and my fingers are crossed that we can manage four species this year. In the main photograph you can also see the House Martin nests under the eves at the front of the house. I have still to work out how to get a camera into the right-hand one of these.

At the other end of the garden, I continue to hear the Robin taking trips out from the box, but there have been no visits to the Tit box to report on.


A Great Tit inspects nestbox2 March - The Great Tits are visiting again!

It was just about 9am on this bright, sunny morning that a welcome face appeared at the box entrance. Moments later the Great Tit entered for a short inspection, which lasted less than half a minute.




While today's visit confirms the Great Tits' continued interest in the nestbox, I am concerned about the Robins this afternoon. I heard movement in the box first thing this morning, and early this afternoon I set up the camera to monitor the nest from across the garden.

An empty Robins' nestboxI had hoped to bring you an image of the Robin in the nest, but for the last four hours the nest has remained empty.

The image represents a view just under 7cm wide, looking through an opening in a trellis panel. The camera is between 12 -13ft away from the nest.

Based on her starting to build her nest on 18 February, the Robin should be incubating by now so this long absence is not encouraging.

Even the male has been quiet today. I have only heard a brief period of song from him, which is unusual, and there has been no sign of the pair appearing together.

A follow-up note at 7pm - With the box still empty I've just checked it with a mirror and there are no eggs in there, leaving me with a puzzle. Either she did not lay any eggs, or they have been taken by something. Perhaps we have just had our first failure of the year, although I shall be watching again in the morning, just in case!


A Robin leaves the nestbox3 March - After strong winds overnight, I was anxious to see if the camera was still pointing at the nest this morning. Fortunately it was, and at 7.50am it captured this image as a Robin pays a brief visit to the nest.

Was that a female Robin, or the male wondering where she is? I'm confused! As I write this I can hear male singing loudly out in the garden, and a Robin has just visited the bird table, but in the absence of eggs why are nest visits continuing?


Robins' nest entrance


During the morning I replaced the telephoto lens on the camera with one of a shorter focal length (200mm) that gives a slightly wider image that includes the trellis frame around the nest entrance. This is the cctv image now - the opening is just over 7cm across.

All I need now is for the Robin to start using the nest!


I've just had a very encouraging e-mail from Aaron Devlin who has the same thing happening at the moment. He tells me that last year 'his' Robin built a nest and then waited three weeks before beginning to lay. It seems that our Robin is simply not ready to start laying yet. I was used to seeing the Robins lay as soon as nest building was completed, but it seems that I have just learnt something new about them...

Camera used to monitor the Robins' nest entrance


Just to get a bit technical for a moment, this is the camera set-up for the outside view. The camera itself is  a JVC TK-C1360BE and the lens is a Vivitar 200mm lens - my very first telephoto lens back in 1970 and now doing grand service once again! It has a Canon FL mount and is mounted to the camera via an adaptor that I made.

The housing is a recycled plant trough with a recycled aluminium sun/rain shade!


I mustn't forget the Great Tits - this morning (8.55am) it was a case of just a look in from the outside!

I know this is at the wrong end of the diary entry, but I have only just gone through the cctv recording that started at 6am.


All was quiet until 6.35am when a Robin entered the nest and immediately settled down.

She shuffled around in the nest for a while before getting into a pattern of shuffle/rest/shuffle for the next fifty minutes.

Robin rests in nest as dawn approaches



For some of the rest periods  she was clearly closing her eyes, as in the lower of this pair of images.

Notice how the arrival of dawn brought colour to the Ivy leaf.


Robin prepares to leave her nest after dawn visit


It was 6.55am before the male Robin could be heard singing (and also confirming that the pair were in the garden!), but it wasn't until nearly 7.25am that the female suddenly had a quick preen, stood up in to doorway to look around and headed out into the garden.

That was about the time that I came downstairs, so I must have just missed her first departure, seeing only her brief return 25 minutes later.


This long visit can only help to confirm what Aaron had already said about her simply not being ready to lay.

Tonight the box is empty again, but I will be starting the recording early again tomorrow, perhaps 5am, just in case!


4 March - The Robins have started their family!

Robin arrives at the nest at 6.42amThis morning started with the arrival of the female at 6.42am. It wasn't long before she settled down to rest, or so I thought.

The bright image is deceptive, and is due to the very low level lighting from the right side of the box. In this level of lighting, the cctv image is very 'jumpy' as the camera records images just about once each second, building up the image data between frames to give these pictures.



Robin - egg-laying sequence at 7.05amAs I watched the recording, just after 7am her behaviour became all too familiar. Her head went down, her tail was held high she became very still (top-left image).

Then, at 7.05am she suddenly raised her body up high for a few moments (top-right image), before flopping back down into a position that she then maintained for several minutes, breathing heavily as she did so.

Sheila watched the sequence with me and agreed that it was definitely egg-laying behaviour.


Robin - male visits at 7.25am

Afterwards, apart from one 'head down into the nest cup' session, she rested, often with eyes closed until 7.25am when the sparkle returned to her eye (really a reflection of the nest box light) as her partner turned up.

He didn't actually visit the nest, but perched on branches so that the camera could only catch his tail. He stayed around of a minute or so, during which time there was an almost constant, but quiet chirping (this morning I didn't hear him singing until about 7.10am).


Robin female leaves at 7.44am


After he left, the female remained more alert, sometimes shuffling about in the nest, until she finally decided to head out at 7.44am. She has not been back to the nest during the morning.

Just after noon I used a dental mirror to check the nest and confirm that she did lay an egg this morning. To my surprise I found not one, but two eggs, suggesting that she actually laid the first egg during yesterday's visit! It will not be possible to get photographs of the eggs.



Male Robin visits nest5 March -  A late start for the Robins this morning. The male had already been singing when his partner entered the nest at 7.06am. Twelve minutes later he visited the nest, perching just outside briefly.

I can't be sure when egg-laying took place, but I think it occurred around 7.30pm.

There was another visit from the male at 7.50am and the female departed at 8.13am.



6 March - Another egg, and the first steps towards incubation.

Female Robin arrives and leaves before dawnAn early arrival this morning, at 6.48am. However, after appearing to settle down she left after just six minutes.

Eight minutes later, at 7.02am she returned, this time staying for over an hour.



Female Robin - egg laying



I can't be sure, but it looks as though she laid an egg at around 7.55am. She had remained very still, with her head down for a while and then her body rose slowly, holding its position for a few second before she slumped low into the nest.

Later I confirmed the presence of four eggs.

Female Robin - leaves after laying egg #4



She remained on the nest until leaving at 8.12am. Although I think the male flew by several times, he didn't approach the nest this morning.



Female Robin incubates eggs

The nest remained empty for the rest of the morning, but at 2.17pm she returned to sit on the eggs for nearly half and hour.

She was back again at 3.57pm for another half-hour stint, and again at just before 5pm when she stayed for just over forty minutes.

It seems that she is beginning the incubation process that will last the next two weeks, although I would expect at least one more egg to be laid before that task is complete.


Female Robin settles in for the nightThis evening she is now back in the nest. She has settled down deep in the nest cup and looks as though she will be staying for the night.

As I mentioned before, the lighting in the box is at a very low level. However, now that I know how well the camera copes with it I may well add a resistor to the lighting circuit tomorrow.



Female Robin in the morning7 March - I came downstairs to see an image of an empty nest this morning, and the same was true of the video recording that started at 4am, so the female must have left the box during the night.

However, any concern about her welfare was put aside when she entered the box at 8.15am and immediately settled on the eggs.

As I watch at around 8.45am, her body movements suggest that she is breathing (or is it heart beats?) at around 114/minute.

With the exception of two short breaks, she is still there at 10.15am.

As an aside to the Robins' progress, this morning I took delivery of four very small B&W cctv cameras for use in either the Swift, Starling boxes or (with some modification) a House Martin nest. I shall be working on these between continued work in our own nest/house!

Female Robin settles in for the night

Tonight, at 7.45pm, the Robin is in the box as she has been for most of the day.

Compare this image with the one recorded last night and you can see that the light level in the box is now much reduced.

With her at the nest so much I didn't attempt to check on the eggs today, and I do not intend to do so again for the rest of the incubation period.



8 March - A strange, worrying day after a surprise start for the Robin.

A worm scares the Robin at 5amI decided to record right through last night. The Robin hardly moved  at all, keeping her head tucked right down in the nest (top-left image). However, at 5am she was suddenly disturbed by something (top -right) and immediately left the nest.

A few seconds later the probably cause for her departure became visible at the left of the entrance, as the glistening shape of an earthworm slithered into the nest.

The worm leaves the nest at 6.45am



Dawn was arriving when the cctv camera caught the moment when the worm finally departed around 6.45am - you can see it at the lower edge of the entrance.



Female Robin in nest before she disappeared

It seemed as though the Robin may have close by, as she was back in the nest within ten minutes.

Her next trip out was at 8.45am, for just three minutes, and it looked as though she was settling down for another day of incubation.

However, she left again at around 9.50am and she has not been back since (it is 6.20pm as I write this, listening to the male singing, and an empty nest). As she left, it didn't look as though she had been disturbed, so I am a bit puzzled.

Male Robin inspects the nest


And so, it seems did the male think so during the day, visiting the nest six times.

Each time he perched on a nearby branch, flew to the entrance, and took just one step inside before looking around and leaving to call from very close by.



I can only hope that this is some 'hiccup' in the incubation of the eggs. To see a record of a similar thing happening to another Robin family, it is well worth visiting David Wheatley's website. He has a camera set up above the nestcup and is recording some excellent images of a Robin at a similar stage to mine.

A Starling inspects one of our nestboxesOn a positive note, I installed a cctv camera into one of the Starling boxes today. I hadn't seen any activity outside the boxes, so I was pleased to find the bottoms of both littered with a few twigs.

It was a nice to see this individual inspect the box late in the afternoon, although as darkness fell the box remained empty.



I'm pleased with the image quality provided by the new cameras, but I have decided not to use Infrared lighting with them this year, so there will be no night-time images from the nests.


9 March - On another bright, sunny (and dare I say, Springlike) morning the news from the Robins' nest is not encouraging.

Male Robin makes the only visit seen todayOvernight, the only activity seen involved a spider(!) until the male perched briefly at the entrance at 7.53am.

I checked the nest last night and confirmed there are five eggs, so I shall be watching with interest today to see if, with the male still paying attention to the nest, the female returns.

It seems that Robins are prone to disappearing like this, and I have had another e-mail describing similar behaviour, being absent for over a day - curious...


A Starling inspects the camera


As I write this at 8.10am there is a Starling looking into the box. No birds roosted in there, but here has been activity since dawn. Although most visits seem to be just inspections, she(?) did bring in a feather which you can see at the bottom of this image.

I will need to get back up to the box this morning to make a slight adjustment to the camera angle - part of the feather is hidden from view, and the same fate could be in store for a young chick!


An amusing observation - yesterday. I left behind in the box a small, rough cut rubber washer (you can see it to the right in yesterday's image). This morning, after pecking at it several times, the Starling has removed it from the box!

Up to 4.15pm there were no further visits to the Robins' nest, although the male still sings occasionally from nearby.

The Blackbirds have started nesting, with the female taking moss and other materials from the slope in front of the West Wing. I haven't spotted where she is building, but I suspect it is in the conifers, so we won't be able to claim this one!


10 March - On another bright morning I'm afraid that my optimism about the Robins is being tested. It is approaching 48 hours since the female left the nest and there is no sign of her returning. While the male is still with us, singing as usual in the Hawthorn, he hasn't visited the nest since yesterday morning, and I haven't seen a second Robin about in the garden.

The Starling box isn't being used for roosting, and no more straw etc has been brought in, but it is being visited frequently in the morning and evening periods, with this morning's first inspection at 6.45am.

In the way of a interesting distraction, Reina in the Netherlands sent me a link to a site with a live tv feed, complete with sound of peregrine falcons nesting on a post office mast in that country - worth a look (and listen)!

The left-hand Starling nest boxThis afternoon it's a case of spot the differences between this and the previous Starling box picture - not only are there more twigs, but the entrance is on the other side! I have now installed a camera in the left-hand of the pair of boxes so that I can monitor both of them.

Things are not quite as straight-forward as they could be, and for the moment I need to go up into my loft to switch between cameras. There is only one downlink cable available at the moment - I hope to remedy that short-coming sometime during the next week.

Bumblebee at Robins' nest entranceI'm afraid that, with the exception of the appearance of this bumble bee (which didn't actually go into the nest) in the late afternoon, today there have been no further sightings of Robins around their nest, and I fear the worst.

I will be keeping an eye on the nest for the next few days, but it is very possible that the Starlings will soon become the focus for this diary.


In fact, tonight the cameras have recorded that individual birds have moved in to roost in the two Starling boxes.

Starlings roosting in the two boxes

In this image I have aligned the two cctv images to represent what you would see if you were to look down into the boxes just after dusk.

The entrances face North, and the birds have tucked themselves against the thin partition wall below the cameras so that they are just millimetres apart.


The areas they choose to roost in are actually clear of the material that has been brought into the boxes. this is especially noticeable in the right-hand box in this picture - perhaps I should call that box 1 in future as it is the left-hand one when you look up from the ground!

Click on the images to see larger versions -

2007 Nestbox Diary Index.....First Chapter (Jan/Feb)....... March (Part 2)