Nestbox Diary - 2007
May (part 2)-
10 May - A bright morning turned grey as lunchtime approached, and since around 1.30pm it's been raining.
Box 2 continues to see courtship displays today, but so far things have remained peaceful in there. I have seen one very brief shuffle take place, so it seems that we could be looking forward to another period of nest building - if only they could wait just a few more days, they would have the place to themselves.
One curious moment occurred in box 2 this morning when this Starling brought in some food. It's not our female, and the small white flecks on its feathers suggest that it's the male of the other pair.
It left again, presumably looking for its partner, perhaps to engage in courtship feeding?.
Back in box 1, our female continues to work had to satisfy the insatiable appetite of the chicks, and with the stress caused by her new neighbours she must be very tired.
As the webcam shows, soon after 8am she was already taking advantage of a quiet spell to tuck her head under her wing for a minute or two, despite there being activity in box 2 (there had just been two birds in there).
As I write this at 3.15pm she is resting again, somehow managing to cover two of the three chicks as she does so.
Although it was empty as dusk fell, Late afternoon/early evening saw quite a bit of activity in box 2. The Starling pair were in there for several quite long sessions of what I assume was courtship, although things certainly didn't always go smoothly. Usually the female would position herself under the camera position and the male would start off at the other end of the box, singing with his chest puffed out, although the flow of song was often interrupted by a need to do a bit of preening.
He would gradually move closer, but that risked being pecked at by the female. Having said that, she would sometimes move closer to him, although if he then responded she would peck him again.
Earlier in the day I saw him bring food into an empty box. This time she was present, and he stood there, singing with the food (possibly a caterpillar) in his beak.
The female didn't respond for a short time - on watching the recording later I see that when her partner turned towards the entrance for a moment she actually lunged forward and 'stole' a bit of the food!
Then, after a bit more of his song, without warning, she flew across the box at him. A fight(?) ensued that look every bit as serious as the ones I witnessed yesterday.
However, it stopped as suddenly as it began, and it looked as though he still had a bit of the food in his beak!
He ate that and immediately started his singing again as though nothing had happened. After singing for a while from a position under the camera he suddenly leapt round to face his partner and continued to sing with increased vigour before the session ended with him leaving suddenly.
Alone in the box, the female spent a bit of time poking about amongst the material on the box floor, and had a brief shuffle.
When the male returned he passed right over her as she stood by the entrance, and as she looked out he started singing again facing into the back corner below the camera. The female must have been interested in this performance because she gradually came closer to him. However, after being very close together for a while the male suddenly went to the other end of the box to continue singing as he looked out.
Later in the encounter, after they had swapped places, the female came over and pecked the (still singing) male quite gently on his neck. In fact when she did it a second time it looked more although she was trying to encage in a bit of preening. However he obviously didn't want her to continue and she returned to the far end of the box where she looked out as he continued the singing.
At another time, the male's song must have been getting boring, because the female tucked her head under her wing, and stayed that way even as he got closer - until he got too close, when she moved away and another session ended.
During the extended time that I watched the boxes, I saw just one very brief squabble at the entrance with a third bird which didn't enter the box completely this time.
Tonight I transferring the couple of hours worth of recordings of box 2 from this afternoon, from video cassette onto my hard drive recorder so that it can then be saved to DVD. When I have time I will also capture from that recording a short sound sequence, but that will probably not be done for a few days (at least!).
11 May - On a damp day things seemed to go smoothly in box 1. Interestingly as yesterday, mum had a rest period soon after 8am.
Box 2 had its visitors through the day, although activity was down on yesterday. There were a couple of squabbles but I didn't see prolonged encounters between the pair today.
On curious event is worth noting. While I was outside (with a macro lens on my camera, so no photo!) I saw what I think was the male fly to box 2 with food in his beak. However, although he arrived at the entrance, he didn't enter the box, which was empty. Instead, he appeared to give the food to a chick that was looking out of box 1. I'm certain it was not our female because as soon as he flew off, she arrived and entered box 1.
Could the bringing of food to box 2 be a reaction to the sounds of chicks rather than courtship feeding?
12 May - A dry day with bright periods, and a day without any drama for our Starling family as it prepares for fledging in the next day or so.
The chicks hatched on 21/22 April, and with fledging taking around 21 days they should be ready to leave tomorrow, although seeing them in the cctv images today I wouldn't say that they were ready yet. I wonder of the feeding problems linked with the loss of the male may delay fledging.
You get a rather different, less fluffy impression of the chicks when you see one stretching out of the box to get food that mum is delivering.
This evening mum was ready to settle down for the night well before 8pm but each time she tried one of the chicks would peck at her. Eventually she gave in and went out to find more food.
In the meantime, box 2 was also in use.
There has been a bird going in and out of box 2 all day, but it wasn't until this evening that I noticed a second Starling in there for a couple of short periods.
As darkness falls (8.55pm) there is a single bird in there. I think it's the female, and it hasn't settled down yet - she continues to preen and look out occasionally.
In box 1, mum is snuggled down with her chicks, perhaps for the last time - and it's quiet!!
13 May - (large images to follow asap) - At 8. 35am on a dull, overcast but dry morning the chicks are still chicks, calling for food from inside their nest! They were the first birds I heard this morning and the noise from the box is constant at the moment.
After a busy start to the day tending to their needs, mum has just had what is her usual rest period in the nest.
More often than not the webcam image seems very dark as the entrance is blocked by one or two chicks stretching out in an effort to spot mum as she approaches with food.
However, there's only room for one when she does turn up, and she usually struggles to get a grip on the entrance as a chick stretches out to grab the food.
As I wait to see what happens to the chicks today, the big news comes from box 2, and outside.
Anyone watching the Martins webcam this morning will have seen a sight of chaos in Starlings box 2 a short time before 8am when there was a prolonged fight in there.
As it went on, I was surprised to see a female enter the box and just watch from the side, occasionally fending off a fourth bird that looked in.
When the fight moved to her end of the box she simple squeezed past to the other end, staying there when the opponents headed outside!
Tonight I copied the fight from tape to hard drive. I hadn't realised just how long the fight continued for - the pair were locked together by their claws just over 10 minutes! During most of that time they were using their beaks as weapons to peck at their opponent's head and neck, although during the rest of the day I didn't see any sign of a Starling with obvious injuries from the incident.
As this image from the Martins webcam shows, during most of the encounter, 'our' female was with her chicks, having brought food, and clearly not involved.
It seems that there are at least two another pairs of Starlings eager to move in to box 2, and things got quite busy outside there this morning.
I also saw one Starling make repeated but unsuccessful attempts to get into the Swift boxes. I also saw a Starling take a brief look into the House Martin nest 1 (nearest the external camera).
And I have seen a number of instances of a Starling calling and flapping its wings usually when perched on guttering or tv antenna, but in this case at the top of my neighbours' Birch tree.
I saw this display when the Starlings were trying to scare off the Swifts. so is it a display to ward off other birds, or to attract a partner?
Whatever is happening with the Starlings, it seems that one pair is not only dominant as far as ownership of box 2 is concerned, but I have seen them(?) bringing in nesting materials throughout the day so far.
It seems that we are going to have another few weeks of Starling activity to monitor on the webcams, but as seems usual, this Starling doesn't have a great concept of what will go through the nest entrance! At this rate he could take some time to build the nest.
Going back to box 1, the chicks are still in place at 3pm.
Approaching 5pm and the chicks are still in place, giving me a chance to capture this image of a gape as mum approached.
Note the structures on the roof of its mouth. When I first saw these in photographs I took of Great Tit chicks I was told that they are called papillae, they are soft structures, generally considered to hold and manipulate food, helping to move it towards the bird's oesophagus.
Now a chance to 'spot the difference' -
As I watched, mum turned up with food and flew off. A few seconds later a Starling with a small piece of food in its beak turned up, perched on the screen for a moment and then entered the box. The only problem with this was that mum had not had time to fly off. get food and return, so that has to be a different bird. The picture on the left shows it leaving.
Then, just under a minute later mum(?) returned, also with food. Her picture on the right shows her leaving with droppings in her beak, something I would expect to see whenever she enters the box.
The camera was focused on the entrance to capture images of the chicks, so I'm afraid the adults heads are out of focus. Nevertheless, look closely and you should see a difference in the colouration of their beaks - the bird on the left has a darker base to its beak.
This is the second time in the last three days that I have seen a different bird feed a chick. I am absolutely certain that for most of the time the chicks have been growing only the female has been visiting the nest, so I'm left with a puzzle. Is it simply another bird reacting to the call of the chicks, or could it even be dad who had left the nest to find another mate for box 2?
If it is that male, he was still bringing out-sized sticks to box 2 at the end of the afternoon.
This one, not the longest by a long way(!) ended up on the driveway like a whole lot of others that I'll be gathering up and putting in the garden a bit later on.
14 May - An egg in box 2, until it was removed!
On another gloomy, damp morning the main news comes from box 2, where the reason for the female's impatience to be in the box yesterday became apparent this morning (I need to check the time later) when she produced an egg on the wooden floor of the box.
I was watching the chicks and their mum in box 1 when out of the corner of my eye I noticed the now familiar 'tick-tock' sideways movement that I saw when the first female laid her eggs.
Since I first saw the egg, numerous bits of nesting material have been brought in, so it seems nest building will have to go on around it!
This evening I established that the egg was laid at 9.28am.
Back in nest 1, at 10.40am the chicks have still to take their first leap into the unknown. There is a lot of wing flapping going on, and the forecast is for brighter conditions later, so I wouldn't be surprised if they fledge today
This image was taken while mum had her usual morning break, a bit later today - not until after 9am.
This afternoon, at 4pm the chicks continue to call from inside the nestbox. Their disrupted family circumstances have obviously had an effect on their readiness for fledging.
Box 2 continues to intrigue. As I said earlier in the day, nest building continued after the egg was laid, and the process included several shuffling sequences,
and by the early afternoon the egg had disappeared from sight. A number of times I have looked carefully at the cctv image as nest materials were moved about, and I can see no indication as to where it is.
The female has been in the box but doesn't seen to settle down in the cleared area. Here she seems to be taking a nap standing up.
An evening update - During the early evening we have seen an interloper Starling enter box 1 several times to attack the chicks. They reacted by pecking back at it and making a great deal of noise. I wondered if it was one of the birds from box 2, but immediately after a couple of the attacks, the female that was in box 2 at the time fended it off at the entrance to that box - so it is not likely to be the male that is involved in there. Could it be one of the birds involved in the fight that took place yesterday in box 2?
The fate of the egg is revealed. Around noon, the female was sitting on the egg, doing her 'tick-tock' shuffle on the egg. Then she decided to leave the box.
Within seconds another Starling entered, took one look into the developing nest cup, and immediately started trying to pick up the egg in its beak.
After several attempts it was successful, and immediately headed out of the box.
Wherever the egg was taken, it didn't end up in the driveway. It leaves me with the simple question - why?
It was a few minutes before the female returned with a beakful of small bits of straw. She scattered them and then settled down in the nest cup and resumed her 'tick-tocking' as if the egg was still under her.
Tonight she is in the box. I wonder if she will lay again tomorrow morning.
15 May - The chicks have Fledged, and another egg is stolen!
On another dull morning I'm not sure where to start!
First of all, the chicks has fledged. The first left by 8.30am, and I don't have a picture record of it leaving.
The second left just after 10.30am
and the last one fledged at 11.08am.
I have only caught a glimpse of one of the fledglings since they left - it was being fed up in the conifers beyond the end of the garden. I think I have heard at least one other calling from a neighbour's garden.
In box 2 the egg thief has struck again!
The female laid an egg around 9.25am.
This time she laid it up on the nest material to the side of the nest cup, and at first she settled into the nest cup and shuffled with the egg still visible by her side.
It took a minute or so before she manoeuvred it down into the hollow.
It wasn't long before the female needed to leave the nest, and as soon as she did so another Starling entered and attempted to pick up the egg.
I was having some difficulty, partly I think because the bamboo leaf kept on getting in the way. While he persevered the female re-entered the box. Curiously, she showed no aggression towards the other bird at all and just watched. She didn't even react when it decided to leave.
There were several more attempts to remove the egg before the bird finally succeeded at around 10.15am.
I went outside immediately but there was no sign of either bird or egg, I've checked the drive and it's not there, so where are they being taken?!
Both the female and what seems to be her partner (and which closely resembles the thief!) have been making numerous checks of the nest cup since the egg disappeared, and nest building continues.
One thought has since come to mind that could offer an explanation. Considering the early stage of nest building, and the fact that the thief wasn't attacked by the female, could the thief be the male that is actually building the nest? Is it possible that the female's eggs have been fertilised by sperm from a different male and that her present partner recognises this and is getting rid of offspring that are not his?
When I watched the recording it was clear that it involved the female, who was in the box when another bird flew in and attacked her.
Once the initial blur of wings was over it was clear that the female was, for the time being at least, the dominant bird - she is in the middle of this image, and on top in subsequent images.
This fight turned into the longest I've seen by far, lasting over 35 minutes, although for long periods the pair were locked together in a sort of stand-off. This picture shows one of those times, which could last for five minutes or more.
Look closely and you can see how both birds are using their claws to hold on to the upper part of their opponents wings.
When they weren't in these pauses, the fighting was extremely vicious with the beak being used as a weapon against the opponents head ( especial around the eyes), neck and chest areas.
There was a curious development this time that I hadn't seen in previous fights. Another bird entered the box. I think it was 'our' nest builder male.
To start with it just stood and watched, but it also contributed a few pecks, aimed as far as I could tell, at the intruder who was already on the receiving end of the female's agression.
In the middle of this shot you may just make out the dark shape of the male as he delivers a peck!
The male didn't stay long, but did peer in again several times, and even had a quick peck from the entrance.
At the end of the fight, another long stand-off came to en end when the female seemed to loose interest and started to preen her very ruffled feathers. Her opponent wriggled free and escaped.
As usual after even a dispute as long as this one, it wasn't long before we saw nesting materials being brought in once more. There were a couple more disputes before the end of the day, even going into the late evening.
Tonight, while box 1 is empty and quiet now, as darkenss fell I could see two birds in box 2, and the occasional sounds confirmed that they were still together after 10pm.
I have now made box 2 the subject of the main Starling webcam so that we can follow that developing mystery. When the nest is completed, will they have any eggs to hatch?
16 May - A quiet day (thank goodness after yesterday) with no egg laid as far as I can tell, so I've taken a break from box watching in order to do some other things today.
18 May - With 'normal' nest-building (no more eggs yet) now under way in box 2, things seem to have got back to some sort of normality, and I'm taking advantage of that situation to do other things.
For the time being, I will be reverting back to just one webcam so that I can do some other work with a laptop. The webcam will continue to show the combined images of the Starling boxes and the House Martins.
Yesterday, for the first time in a couple of weeks there was noisy Swift activity over the neighbourhood, but I have still to see any visit my neighbours' roof (my fingers are crossed that they do some time soon), but I am still to see the House martins. I'm still hopeful. While they are late compared with last year, in 2005 they hadn't started using the nests until at least the 27thof the month, when we headed for Cornwall. On our return on 13 June, it was obvious that a female was sitting on eggs.
For reasons I won't bore you with, we are not taking the caravan to Cornwall this year, so we will be around to monitor the nests right through the nesting season (apart from a couple of very short interruptions!).
19 May - Just a note to say that at 9.25pm, noises from the box suggests that there are two birds in there tonight.
28 May - Far too long a gap since the last entry!
Before we left home on the 21st I watched the Starling in box 2 while we had breakfast and she showed all the signs to suggest she was laying an egg. However, we left home before she left the nest so I couldn't confirm that an egg had actually been produced, but a check of the recording made that morning confirmed it.
On our return from Mudeford on Thursday(27th) there were four eggs in the nest, and there have been none laid since then.
After all the chaotic incidents of the first brood, thinks seem to be very calm in box 2. The only noises we hear are the calls of one parent when they obviously think it's time to be relieved of incubation duties for a while, or a quick greeting (or is it a squabble?) when there is a change-over.
In this cctv image captured this afternoon the second parent has arrived with a beakful what must be soggy nesting material (it was pouring down outside!).
There's still no sign of any House Martins here. I'm really keeping my fingers crossed that I see some when the weather clears up. The worrying thing is that when the weather was still dry on the day we returned, while the Swifts were screaming their way across the sky over us (although I didn't see any go to our neighbours' roof) I still couldn't see any Martins at all, so it's not just 'our' birds that are missing.
Click on the images to see larger versions -
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