The 2008 Nestbox Diary

 March - part 3 

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17 March -  I have been starting my recording of the quad image at 6am up to now, but it looks as though I need to start earlier - the Starlings had left by 6am, and then the Great Tits surprised me by visiting at around 6.50am, just as the dimmer brought the lighting up to daytime levels! The male then returned at 7.15am to spend time pecking at the wood around the entrance before going in to make another inspection. Both visits followed the usual pattern with the female arriving second and the male leaving straight  after she entered.



The pair made yet another visit at 10.11am, and it was during this inspection that I saw the female make her first 'shuffle' in the box. This really is promising behaviour.


Starling nestbox R at noon today



The Starlings started making their morning visits around 7.15am. While there were a few visits during the rest of the day,  the day's nest building efforts  had more or less finished by 8.30am.

This picture shows the state of the nest at around noon today.


The female appeared briefly at 5.17pm, but there was a bit more coming and going before both birds were in for the night (each in their own box) at around 5.40pm.


18 March - A grey day with no sunny spells, and the dull start was reflected by a later commencement of the day's activities at both Starling and Great Tit boxes.

The Great Tits arrived at 'their' box at 7.30am. The male spent some three minutes pecking at the entrance before entering. A brief inspection was cut short when the female entered and he left. The female left at 7.34am, and a minute later the male returned for another short visit. This time, before he left he spent a short time pecking at the inside of the entrance.

While I was them in the garden during the day, the only other appearance at the box came at 4.46pm when the male pecked at the outside of the entrance for less than a minute before leaving again.

The Starlings left their roosts at 6.03am. Half an hour passed before they started their morning visits. Between then and 10am there were some 20 visits to box R but very little was added to the nest. In the next hour there were just two more visits, and it was 5.23pm before the female returned for the night. By 5.37pm the male was back in box L to end what was a quiet and seemingly unproductive day for the pair.


19 March - A bright start to the morning, but by 10am the skies were largely grey. I was a bit slow to appear on the scene, but since 9am (it's noon as I write this) I haven't seen any activity in the boxes.

While I won't be looking at the composite Starling/GT video until this evening, I also recorded onto DVD two hours of the side view of the Tit box from 6.50am to 8.50am. During that period there was one sequence of visits which started with the male Great Tit appearing at the entrance at 7.39am. He spent the next minute pecking at the wood before entering briefly. When he exited the box he remained at the entrance for another minute before disappearing.

The female Great Tit performs another shuffle



The female then appeared at 7.43am and after a some hesitation, entered  and spent the next three minutes inside, performing another shuffle just before she left.



In that image the 'snow' above her is dust that she has generated. These small birds breathe at rates of over 50 times a minute while at rest, increasing to over 200 times per minute during/after flight (I'm not sure of the actual figures, so if someone can enlighten me I would be very grateful), so their respiratory system has to remain in very good condition, so how do birds that nest in hollows or in other enclosed nests cope with these high dust levels?

The box remained empty for the rest of the day, although one of the Great Tits was at the entrance at around 2.45pm.

For the Starlings it was another day off nest building. After the first left the boxes at 6.02am I didn't see anything brought in during fifteen visits to box R between 6.35am and 9.10am. Visits then ceased until the female appeared briefly in box R at 5.05pm. A couple more short visits occurred before she finally entered box R for the night at 5.58pm, just after the male had entered box L.


20 March - with progress at a halt in the Starling boxes (they are safely ensconced, each to their own box, tonight) I'll just report on the Great Tits today.

Not as predicable as the Starlings, the DVD I recorded on first thing this morning has two hours of empty box on it! Then, at 9am a face appeared at the entrance.

The Great Tit pair visits the box - 1After his usual peck at the wood, the male entered. He was in the only a few seconds to look around before his partner came in.

As she entered, he headed for the corner, crouched, and greeted her with an open beak.

When she landed she appeared to ignore him for a moment,


The Great Tit pair visits the box - 2


but then turned towards him and raised herself up. Again, she looked away for a moment. This time as she turned back towards him she hopped slightly closer.

This seemed like the signal for the male to leave, a process that she seemed to ignore completely as she got on with the business of her own inspection.

The male Great Tit surprises the female - 1


A minute and a half later the male re-entered the box without warning.

The female was surprised. She crouched quickly and pointed her beak at the intruder. He ended up landing on top of her, flying up again to land by the side of what looked like an angry female.



This time, the male did something I didn't expect. After opening his beak briefly, he looked down at the still crouching female, hopped forward and for a fraction of a second put his left foot onto her back.

That was followed quickly by a jump to the back of the box where he stretched himself and headed for the exit.

The female Great Tit does a 'shuffle' - 1



Once he had gone the female's inspection continued with some vigorous pecking of the floor and this high speed shuffle before she left.


The female Great Tit does a 'shuffle' - 2


Seven minutes later and the male was at the entrance again. He entered the box, and two minutes later and the female swapped places with him again.

This time she shuffled six times in a two minute session before leaving. After seeing this I have to say that I'm more optimistic than ever that the pair will nest here - fingers firmly crossed!


There was a third sequence of visits at just before 11am. It followed the usual pattern of male in first, with him leaving once his partner was in the box. However, this time he hesitated even longer than during the first sequence before leaving, and there was another shuffle by the female.


21 March - Weather-wise a mixed day. With everything form bright sunshine, strong breezes with stronger gusts, and even snow while it was 7C outside!

The Great Tits made an early visit at around 7.10am, with just the basic pattern of male inspection / female in & male out / female inspection (with just one shuffle seen). After that I didn't see them at the box until late afternoon when the male looked in at 4.40pm and again at 5.25pm.

Bumblebee visits nestbox


The Tit box has another visitor soon after noon when a bumblebee entered, climbed down to the floor. but then climbed back up straight away and left.

It looks like a Buff-tailed Bumblebee.


A bright start to the day had the male Starling leaving box L at 5.56am, his partner staying put until she too headed out at 6.12am. Once again, I didn't see anything brought in during the numerous visits that took place over the next two hours. These had stopped by 8.30am, even though the pair spent (as usual) much of the day in the garden.

At the end of the afternoon the skies started to get darker as heavy cloud cover seemed to bring dusk forward. The female visited both boxes at 4.56pm. At 5.33pm she again visited box R before going into box L, where she stayed.

Starlings in box L at dusk - 1The male arrived in box R at 5.36pm, called and then headed into box R. There was an inevitable squabble between the pair before there was a standoff, represented by the first in this sequence of images (top-left).

Eventually the male moved towards the end of the box and it looked as though the female was heading for the exit. However, after a pause she suddenly moved around the male and headed to the back corner.

Starlings in box L at dusk - 2



The male stayed where he was for a while, as the female settled into the corner. Then she suddenly stepped backwards and pecked at his back. He opened his beak but didn't attempt to retaliate, and eventually reversed into the front corner.

Starlings settle to roost in box L at dusk



The pair remained like this for a few minutes before another quick exchange of beaks caused the male to move away. He soon returned to the corner, this time facing into the corner.

The pair have remained like this for the rest of the evening, apart from another disagreement at around 9.30pm.


Out of interest I'm going to record right through the night.


22 March - It was a cold day, with the temperature only popping up above 3 degrees when the sun came out between periods when dark clouds moved in from the east bringing a mixture of rain, sleet and snow during the day.

These conditions certainly had an effect on the Starlings. During the night they were surprisingly peaceful, apart from a few moments when one bird dealing with an itch disturbed its partner. On two of those occasions they ended up swapping places. The morning started for them when the male suddenly moved close to the exit at around 5.36am, just as first light could be seen through the opening. The female didn't move until 5.40am. By 6am both were by the exit, the male leaving at 6.04am. The female left box L a minute later, only to go straight into box R where she stayed for the next 23 minutes.

Once she left the box at 6.27am, there were no morning visits, neither bird returning until they both arrived at 5.52pm, each going into its own box as snow fell outside, Once in the male settled down for the night straight away, and the female did so after she performed a single shuffle to clear the nesting material from her sleeping area.

The Great Tits made several appearances this morning, but not this afternoon.  At 7.50am it was the female that appeared first. She stayed outside, pecking at the wood for nearly four minutes before entering.

Female Great Tit pecks at moth (on other side of the glass!)

All through the night there had been a dark object on the glass at the back of the box, and during her inspection, the female noticed it and tried pecking at it several times without success - it was a moth that had landed on the camera side of the glass and so was quite safe! She left a few minutes later after a session of vigorous pecking at the box floor.

At 8.08am she returned, had a few more pecks at the moth and left a couple of minutes later, having pecked at the wood around the exit first.


At 8.30am the male turned up for the first (and only) time today. He too spent a couple of minutes pecking at the wood around the entrance before going into the box. HE spotted the moth almost straight away, but had only just started to peck at it when his partner entered, and he left.

Once on her own, she once again engaged in pecking the floor, and I saw four shuffles performed before she left at 8.33am.

Female Great Tit pecks at bird table


That was the last time that I saw them at the box, but as usual both birds came to feed at various times.

I didn't get a chance to photograph the male, but here is the female at the bird table this afternoon.



The entrance to the Tit box faces directly East, and with the box more or less in line with our shared driveway, early sunshine can sometimes be a problem (hence the filter being used in front of the camera).

Quad image showing sunlight reflected from bedroom windowHowever, as this image (recorded at around 5.40pm, before the Starlings returned) shows, sunshine can also find its way into the Tit box in the late afternoon or early evening as the season progresses.

At those times there is a short period when sunshine is reflected by our bedroom window at just the right angle to produce this disc of light on the glass, the disc being broken up by the branches of the Birch tree.



23 March - As I write this entry, I'm hoping that it will not be the last report on the Great Tit box this season.

The male Great Tit was already at the box entrance when the DVD recording started at 6.50am, and entered the box just afterwards. He was in there for less than half a minute before he was replaced by his partner, who also stayed just a short time.

Female Great Tit at work in nestboxAt 7.42am the female reappeared for a solo visit, something happening as a matter of course now.

After disappearing for a couple of minutes, she entered the box and spent the next few minutes engaged in her usual mixture of looking around, shuffling,



Female Great Tit pecks at floor of nestbox



and pecking vigorously at the floor. During this, she splays out her legs as she hammers the wood with her beak.


Female Great Tit pauses in nestbox


After doing this in the back-left corner of the box, she drew her legs back under her but stayed crouching. In fact, she stayed in this position for the next ten minutes or so.

She looked quite relaxed, looking around occasionally, but showing no sign of stress, leading me to think that she was just resting - it was cold, and there was sleet falling out side).

Eventually, she stood up, stretched (giving some nice views of her front) and looked around before leaving quite normally at about 8am.

While I was reflecting on what had turned out to be the longest visit yet (I was watching the 'live' images while I also followed) the Malaysian Grand Prix) another explanation for the long stay materialised at the next entrance.

A cat investigates the Great Tit nestbox
A minute after the female left, the eye of the neighbourhood cat appeared at the opening, followed by entry of a paw, claws bared.

It was waved around as the cat hoped to make contact with something edible, although even if there had been a nest in there, the paw would not have reached it.


Although I wasn't able to hear anything, I must assume that the Great Tit's long pause was because it had sensed the presence of the cat. There was no 'face to face' contact between bird and cat so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the Great Tit will not abandon the box

There are cat barriers up around the box, but last year I removed one part so that I could do something and failed to replace it! That omission has now been remedied - hopefully not too late.

At 1.15pm I have just been encouraged by the appearance of the male at the entrance. He didn't go in but did call loudly several times while there. Even so, it's the female that I need to see return before I can be sure that the cat hasn't brought the story to an end.

Away from the nestbox but on the same theme, I'm still seeing Blackbird activity at the top of the Ivy tree. Although I need to confirm this, it is possible that their nest survived the cat's visit the other day.

In the late afternoon, the male Great Tit made two trips to look into the box, and call from the entrance without going in, something that he seems to do fairly regularly, but it will be tomorrow morning before I expect to see his partner if all is well.


For the Starlings, it was a 'normal' day, with the male out of box L at 5.50am and the female hanging on until 6.07am before she left box R. Morning visits were on again today, although yet again no nesting material was brought in, and the last visit had occurred by 8am.

The end of the day was pretty straightforward for them. The female appeared briefly in box R at 5.20pm and then went in for the night at 5.43pm. Her partner approached box R (but didn't attempt to enter) before he went into box L for the night at 5.44pm. Both birds settled very quickly tonight.

Click on the images to see larger versions -

2008 Nestbox Diary Index...........Previous Chapter.......... March (part 4)