The 2008 Nestbox Diary
April - part 4
28 April - The Great Tit and Starling eggs have started hatching!
This has caught me by surprise this morning as I didn't expect hatching to start for another two days!
More details (and chicks?) to follow later....
Not far behind was the first hatching in the Starling box, which I noticed around 9.30am, and I've just seen a second at 9.45am.
It doesn't take long for the appearance of a chick to change the behaviour of the parents. Here, the first bit of food is brought in for the early arrivals.
And it was soon clear that a third chick had also hatched.
Down in the Great Tit box, the new family was also growing in number. A second chick had hatched before 10am,
and it wasn't long before a hole appeared in another egg to indicate the imminent arrival of chick #3.
I wasn't able to record the emergence of that chick because mum returned and hid it from me as she pecked the shell away.
A short time later and she left again, giving me the chance to get this picture of the three of them.
Mum was soon back in, and as the skies darkened outside and heavy rain started to fall, the male arrived with food, although this was clearly not for the chicks!
He tried and tried to look down into the nest cup by she didn't budge for him to see the chicks.
However, his unusually long stay did give me the chance to record this 'restful' image of the pair before they enter into several weeks of hard work.
The male did get to see the chicks on his next visit!
As I write this at 10.50am the female is taking the chance to have a rest, and has her head tucked under her wing.
At 11am I saw her eating another shell, and this cctv image confirms that the fourth chick has hatched.
And here they are, with a couple obviously ready to eat!
Notice how the tufts of down on their heads and shoulders are matted together.
Several hours later, at 2.50pm and with mum looking on, the down on a couple of the chicks has dried and is now looking very fluffy.
The need to continue with incubation means that sometimes the female is reluctant to move when her partner bring in food. When he brought this caterpillar in, the male spent ages quietly calling, and trying to find a way past the female, but yet again she didn't move from her position deep in the nest cup.
Eventually he moved round to the other side of the box and gave the caterpillar to her. I'm not sure if it was passed on to a chick, or eaten by her.
On another occasion when the female was absent, the male brought in what looked like a sunflower kernel. He spent a few minutes trying to persuade the chicks to take it, but gave up eventually and ate it himself.
At 3.50pm I have just caught sight of the female eating another piece of egg shell - I hope to confirm another hatching soon.
However, it also presented a puzzle because while there were five chicks, there were only four eggs and not the five I had expected.
I had to look back through the cctv footage to find the explanation.
At 4.08pm the female started pecking at an egg again, but this time it was more than just a shell that she lifted out of the nest cup and took out of the nest box - I must assume that she had detected that there was no sign of life in that egg and needed to remove it.
The five chicks that she does have so far appear to healthy, and in this picture the new-comer is obvious with its downy feathers still stuck together like streamers.
The parent appears to have in its beak a small pupa or chrysalis.
Other than the sunflower kernel I mentioned earlier, I haven't seen either parent try to feed the chicks with large items today. Most items have been similar in size to, or smaller than those in this photograph.
At the end of what was a busy day and with both females tucked in for the night, we now have five Great Tit chicks, with four still to hatch, and four Starling chicks with just one egg left.
Hopefully the process of hatching will be completed tomorrow with no further losses.
29 April - After yesterday's excitement I'm afraid I've had a bit of a slow start this morning.
So far, at just before 9am I can confirm that the Starlings now have a full set of five chicks to feed, and the Great Tits now have six chicks.
My slow start failed to turn into something more energetic during the rest of the morning (thanks to the CFS) but I did go down the nest box for a very short time and came back with this picture.
While having breakfast soon after 9am we had seen a shell being eaten, and the photograph shows seven chicks at 11am.
At noon there are still two intact eggs.
This evening we are still waiting for the last two eggs to hatch.
With it cool and often very wet outside the female has spent a lot of time sitting today.
When she has been outside the female has returned looking very bedraggled. Somehow, faced with the same conditions the male has continued to look freshly preened when he brought in food.
As I said at the beginning of this entry, the Starlings now have a full set of chicks, and despite the miserable weather both parents have succeeded in bringing in numerous large larvae etc for them.
There is no sign of any visitors to the Swift boxes yet - since I removed the ramp there have been no further visits by Starlings. This evening I caught sight of a single pair of Swifts flying very low outside the front of the house and approaching close to the nesting site in my neighbours' roof space. I set up my camera to try to record them but I suspect they may have gone in while I returned indoors to get a cable release, and I didn't stay out very long as yet another rain cloud was rolling in from the west.
I had intended to use a recording of Swift calls to attract customers to my boxes. However, after last year's problems I decided not to do so this season because I wanted to be sure first that with their nest boxes in a new position, the Starlings would not be a problem for the already established pair of Swifts.
Tonight, in the short time that I was outside I didn't see 'our' Starling female show any aggression towards the Swifts while she was perched outside her box. It's too early to be that optimistic, but if all is well over the next couple of weeks then I will definitely use the calls next Spring. In the meantime I will continue to monitor the Swift boxes and report on any observations that I make.
While the spider is on the 'safe' side of the glass, it reminds me that on several nights I've heard and then seen a mosquito flying about inside the box itself. I wonder if/how much roosting birds are affected by mosquitoes? Do the fluffed up plumage and the head tucked under the wing help protect them?
30 April - Another wet morning for the new parents, and a technical problem for me as the video feed from the top camera in the Great Tit box has failed.
I'll be going down to the box to carry out checks during the day while the parents are out. It could be one of three reasons - a bad connection between video cables, a power supply problem (either of these should be easily sorted) or camera failure (which cannot be resolved until nesting is over).
Good news - the camera and its power supply are working fine - it's the cabling between box and house that has failed, so there should be a return of the 'look-down' image at some point this morning.
It's now fourteen days since the last egg was laid, and the incubation period given in my guides is 13-14 days, so it is still possible that at least one more will hatch today.
It's obviously a larva of some sort being delivered by this parent, but I cannot decide what it could be - any ideas?
The weather has remained wet for much of the day, and once I had re-established the video link I decided to stay away from the box to minimise the possibility of stress in the miserable conditions.
Tonight, the eggs are still intact in the Great Tit box and I'm beginning to think that we will be watching seven chicks growing up rather than the ten - that may be a distinct advantage during the present weather!
In the Starling box, one of the chicks had its last feed at around 8.45pm tonight.
In this cropped cctv image you can see the fuzzy down that tops the chicks' heads.
Click on the images to see larger versions -