Nestbox Diary - 2007

May (part 1)-

A One Parent Family 

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2 May - I have looked through yesterday's recording and can confirm that I saw only the female visiting the nest all day.

She left the nest for the first time at 5.29am and returned with food 8 times before 6am.

For the rest of the day, up to 8pm, when the recording ended, the figures were -

6-7am - 10 visits; 13 minutes spent sitting on chicks

7-8am - 18 visits; 13 min sitting

8-9am - 11 visits; 14 min sitting

9-10am - 15 visits; 13 min sitting

10-11am - 9 visits

11am-noon - 18 visits; 11 min sitting

noon-1pm - 13 visits; 8 min sitting

1-2pm - 17 visits; 4 min sitting

2-3pm - 17 visits; 2 min sitting

3-4pm - 8 visits; 17 min sitting

4-5pm - 12 visits; 2 min sitting

5-6pm - 9 visits; 6 min sitting

6-7pm - 10 visits

7-8pm - 20 visits; 7 min sitting

If my observations (and maths!) are correct, the female brought food to the box 195 times during those fourteen and a half hours. At least one insect (adult or larva) was brought in each time, so each of the three surviving chicks could have received at least 65 feeds! No wonder that mum took time to rest at intervals during the day.

Tonight I am feeling extremely frustrated. Over a couple of hours this evening I have watched the Swifts desperately trying to approach their nest site in my neighbour's roof, only to be thwarted by the Starling as she feels the misguided need to defend her chicks from them. Anyone watching the webcam this evening will have see her back and forth almost continuously from soon after 7pm onwards until it was almost dark, and while I saw her return with food on some trips, most were in response to the approach of a Swift.

 While I have no intention of doing any harm to the Starlings, I feel that I must try to do something to make life easier for the Swifts. They are far too valuable to be prevented from nesting in this way.

It seems that even when she is sitting on the chicks she is still able to see the entrance that the Swifts wish to use. Tomorrow I may well fashion a piece of aluminium to create a screen that I can attach to the side of the Starling box (with the minimum of stress caused). While not hindering her access to the nest, the idea is to prevent her from seeing the Swifts' entrance directly from or through her entrance. It would also act as a chicane to prevent her from launching herself directly at the Swifts.

I appreciate that there is an element of risk about what I plan, but I'm counting on the fact that the female is used to seeing me around, and at close quarters, especially when she collects mealworms. Once the aluminium is cut and shaped I will not need to be by the nestbox for more more than the time it takes to fix two screws, which I will do by hand.


3 May - First of all, I must apologise to those who found that the Starling webcam had 'frozen' yesterday - I didn't find out about it until this morning. It was a case of needing to restart the laptop, and everything seems to be working again now.

Screen added to Starling boxBy noon today, the screen was in place. The screen itself is made from a thin aluminium sheet, with the top and front folded over to created rounded edges to avoid damage to wings.



Starling passes screen as it leaves the box



The bracket holds the screen away from the side of the box to give plenty of clearance for the Starling's wing span as she arrives at and leaves the box.



Starling box in relation to neighbours' roof


The screen protrudes out enough to prevent the Starling form being able to see the corner of my neighbours' roof (and my own Swift boxes), as well as obscuring the Swifts' usual flight path as they approach that corner.

The real test will come this evening when the Swifts once again (hopefully) attempt to access the roof space.


The Starling was very wary of the addition for a while after it was put up, making numerous aborted approaches to the box over the next half hour. But she gradually built up confidence, especially when the chicks (who had gone very quiet) started to call again.

webcam image, 12.44pm


This afternoon, although still somewhat uncertain as she approached the box,  she is busy feeding the chicks again, so I'm satisfied that she has accepted the presence of the screen. I do need to add a couple more screws to the bracket, but I will leave that until tomorrow.



The first chick to go wandering4 May -  There was an important step forward taken today, at least by one of the chicks when it climbed out of the nest cup and walked across to the entrance.

It didn't stay there long. When mum brought food in it soon rejoined its siblings.


A chick stretches a wing



Their feathers are developing quickly now. It's a pity that the camera cannot pick up more detail.

This image shows how well developed their wings are, with another week to go before fledging in the weekend of 12-13 May.

A chick preens and flaps its wings



Preening is a necessary pastime while waiting for the next food delivery.

This preening session ended with a vigorous wing flapping.


Female Starling outside box


As for mum, she is now completely used to the screen. She now comes and goes as though it has always been in place.

In these pictures, the evening sun is casting the shadows and giving the screen its reddish colouring.



Last night I wasn't sure if the screen was going to make much difference to her protective aggression. She continued to attempt to chase any Swift that was foolish enough to fly past the Starling box. Life became even more complicated when another pair of Starlings appeared to be house hunting and investigate the Swifts' site and risk trying to look into the Starling box. For a while 'our' Starling didn't seem to know who the chase!


A Swift arrives at its nest site


Today things have looked much more promising. The other Starlings are still about, and I have seen a Swift go to the nest site a couple of times without harassment.

This is a terrible picture, but the white blob in front of its face suggests to me that the Swift might have something in its mouth.



The female Starling takes the chance to rest

Even more encouraging was the sight this afternoon of a very tired mum being relaxed enough in the box to tuck her head under her wing for a few minutes.

And this evening she was not in and out of the box anywhere as often as on previous evening.

I can't be sure that these changes in her behaviour are because of the screen, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed and will be watching with interest over the next couple of days.


Whatever happens, I have decided that once the nesting season is finished I will swap the Starling boxes with the House Sparrow terrace, putting the Starlings right at the back end of the wall, as far as possible from the Swifts.

There is no sign yet of our House Martins, or the pair that nests across the road, returning. The few that I saw earlier in the week must have moved on as I haven't seen any today. It was on the 4th that they started work on the nests last year so I hope we see them soon.


The three chicks leave the nest cup6 May - Today the chicks seemed to spend as much time out of the nest cup as they did in it, and for most of the day they had their backs to the camera. I guess that this will be the case right through the next seven days before they fledge next week end.

It's not a good image, but look carefully and you can make out the stubby tail feathers of the chick in the middle.

A chick looks out



Not only were they out of the nest cup, but they also took the opportunity to peep out of the box as they called for food, giving me this first opportunity to take photograph of one.





Mum with chicks7 May -  A few days ago I mentioned another pair of Starlings that had appeared on the scene. Well, this morning it seems that either they, or another Starling are becoming serious about moving in on the territory. Before 9am this morning, mum was in and out of the box frequently, without food, and frequently tucking herself against the wall under the camera, and as the chicks squawked for food she pecked at them.

I saw the reason for this behaviour when another adult entered the box briefly. Mum stayed with the chicks rather than attacking it, but the intruder left almost straight away (no image available for that incident!).

An intruder Starling visits


During the course of the next hour or so there were only a couple of food deliveries as mum was distracted by the other bird (seen in these images), which visited box 2 several times.




As usual now, the chicks are wandering all over the nest, and looking out from time to time (as you can see in the image above) but  I write this at 11.30am I have just seen the female grab hold of a chick that wasn't in the nest cup and dump it in there with its siblings. This happened just after I saw a bird in box 2.

Mum ready to defend her hungry chicks


And we have just had another moment of what appears to be panic on her part after she returned from visiting box 2. Again, while she perched in the corner, the chicks squawks were rewarded with several vicious looking pecks.




A puzzling sequenceJust before noon there was another curious sequence. A Starling entered box 2 with food in its beak. It could obviously hear the calling from box 1 and seemed to investigate the partition wall. Then it left the box to perch on the screen.

Just when I thought it was going into box 1 it veered away and re-entered box 2, again acting as though it was trying to get to the noisy but unseen) chicks.

When it left the box this time, it flew up onto my neighbours' roof, hopped up to the top of it and ate the food - very curious!


Even more confusion at 12.20pm. Mum comes in again with no food and heads for the corner. Moments later another bird comes to the entrance. I dash out in time to see that this bird has food in its mouth - what is going on????

For the moment I have adjusted the House Martin webcam to include both Starling boxes rather than the Swift boxes, which are unlikely to be used this year.

This evening, events too a disturbing turn for our Starling. The Swifts were completely forgotten about as she found herself under siege by the Starling pair. Soon after 7pm I noticed that one of them had moved into box 2, and was spending a lot of time looking out.

An attack by an intruder Starling - 1I went out to get a photograph and found that its partner was perched on the guttering above the boxes. 'Our' Starling would peep out, and I think she was dropping faecal sacs out of the box (usually she carries these up onto my neighbours' roof, wiping her beak on the roof tiles).

Suddenly, the bird from box 2 launched itself, did a sharp turn, and attacked the female as she looked out before returning to box 2.


An attack by an intruder Starling - 2


A bit later there was another attack. This time the bird from box 2 perched on the aluminium screen from where it was obviously looking into box 1.

When the female came to the entrance it was attacked briefly before the attacker headed back into box 2.

Its partner then flew down to perch on the screen and look into box 1, although this bird didn't make any aggressive moves.

After a couple of minutes the intruder pair headed up to the top of my neighbours' roof, and I headed indoors to look at the images.

'Our' female attacks an intruder in box 1



I had only just sat down when there was chaos in box 1 as the female fought off an intruder.


The two intruder Starlings in box 2 this evening



After this attack things quietened down, but the Intruders didn't go away. In fact, the two of them then spent ages together in box 2.

Eventually, the bird nearest the camera left the box, the other one remaining in there as darkness fell.


'Our' female in box 1 this evening


In the meantime, 'our' female stayed tucked on the chicks. She hadn't left the box since well before 7.30pm, so the chicks have gone hungry tonight.

I shall make sure that I record what happens in both boxes first thing tomorrow morning. There will be an urgent need to get food for the chicks as well as for herself as soon as possible after first light.



8 May - (large images to follow asap) - A cloudy but dry day, and very blustery, with the wind largely from the West and gusts of around 35mph. Although the temperature peaked at 19C the wind chill meant that it felt much cooler. At least it seemed that 'our' Starling has an easier day.

A bird in box 2The bird that roosted in box 2 left the box for the first time around 5.45am and was back and forth frequently over the next 45minutes, with more time spent in than out. After that, there were occasional visits throughout the day.

I think at least one bit of straw was brought in, and soon after 6pm I was surprised to see the bird resting with its head tucked under its wing as the chicks next door continued their almost continuous squawking.

However, at 8.30pm, as darkness falls the box is empty.


For 'our' Starling the day seemed to start reluctantly. It was a chick that was first to look out at just before 5.30am, while mum was still snuggled down in the nest cup. It was a couple of minutes before she started moving about. She left the box at 5.40am and I think a chick was fed at the entrance a couple of minutes later. Certainly, by 5.40am food was being brought in on a regular basis.

A chick gets bread for breakfast



When the local humans were having breakfast the chicks were treated to what appeared to be pieces of bread which the chicks had problems getting to grips with!


Mum arrives


During the day there were a few encounters with the 'intruder' Starlings, but there was no where the level of aggression that I saw yesterday, and I saw no long gaps in feeding that could be put down to the rivalry.

This shot shows mum approaching the nest. On this occasion the chicks at the entrance will be disappointed as she hasn't brought any food.

Starling family huddled together in the evening


This evening there was another early end to the day, this time out of choice. The cctv image shows the family all huddled together at around 7.20pm, and mum didn't leave the box again before darkness fell.




9 May - A dull grey, wet day which was cool by recent standards, with a high of just over 13C, and after yesterday's quietness, today saw the 'intruder' pair becoming the main performers.

Starling family this morning


Our Starling family continued with the usual feeding, calling for more food, preening and exercising of wings.

The chicks are growing rapidly, and there were times today when they looked as big as mum,

Starling family this morning



especially when one reached up near the camera as mum delved down into the nest cup in search of faecal sacs to remove.


Starling chick stretches a wing


I'm afraid the glum conditions outside meant that the camera often had to struggle to produce useable images, but this one at least shows how well developed their wing feathers are now.

By next year's nesting season I hope to have installed infra-red lighting.


Box 2 has seen visitors come and go occasionally throughout the day, and I have seen what I believe is a male bringing in small amounts of nesting material.

At the end of the afternoon he was joined by (presumably)  a female which he was obviously trying to impress, puffing out his chest feathers and singing, although this individual has a poor repertoire compared with the male we have lost.

First attack on birds in box 2


Then, just before 5pm, and as he was mid-performance, a third bird crashed in through the entrance and all hell broke loose.

Most of the time the image was just a blur, but every now and then there would be the briefest of pauses, enough to see that all three birds were still there, although I don't think the female was actually involved in the fight.

The end of the first attack on birds in box 2



This frame, almost abstract in appearance shows (look carefully!) the moment when the intruder headed for the exit,



The birds in box 2 after the first attack


leaving the pair to continue where they left off.

Things weren't all smooth going between the pair, and when  the male approached too close the female became aggressive momentarily


The birds in box 2 before the second attack


Left alone to continue their courtship, at one point the male decided to leave the box and found his tail being pecked at by the female as he headed out. She also left a minute or so later.

They were back just after 5.10pm and after a couple of minutes, when his displaying was getting quite enthusiastic he was attacked again.



The second attack on box 2


This time it looked as though the intruder overshot its target and ended up on the floor of the box and was quickly on the receiving end of the attack.

The female stayed in the corner throughout this encounter, which ended with the male following the intruder out of the box.

The third attack on box 2


It was a few minutes before the male returned to continue where he left off. Unfortunately, a third attack interrupted him again.

After he had seen the attacker off for the third time, his enthusiasm seemed to have been drained, and a few minutes later he left, once more being pecked on his rear end for his troubles!

The female stayed a few minutes later before she also left.

There were several further visits to box 2 by individual birds before 7.30pm, but the box remained empty from then on until darkness fell.

While there were times this afternoon when 'our' female was with the chicks in box 1 while the two birds were present in box 2, but none of these occasions corresponded with the attacks. In at least one attack I think the intruder had quite large white flecks on its feathers, and there is a real possibility that the culprit may have been our female, alerted by the male's courtship calls.

Click on the images to see larger versions -

2007 Nestbox Diary Index.....

Jan/Feb. March (nest building).... April (egg laying/incubation).... May (part 2)