The 2008 Nestbox Diary

 March - part 4 

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Female Great Tit in nestbox24 March - A sigh of relief was breathed at 7.30am (just after I had got up) when I heard the clatter of a bird arriving at the Great Tit box, followed by the sight of the female entering.

What followed was a short, but energetic inspection with some hard pecking, an abbreviated shuffle and the use of a different vantage point. Hopefully, the cat incident is behind us and the pair will continue with their interest in the box.

I'll be checking for any earlier visits later!

And it looks as though nest building may be resuming in the Starling box. As I watched out for the arrival of the female Great Tit, the female Starling brought a few small twigs into box R.

Update at noon - I've looked through the early morning recordings and found that the first Great Tit visit this morning was at 6.40am, although the bird stayed outside the box and I couldn't make out whether it was male or female - it didn't call out loudly as the male often does.

At 6.52am it was the female who appeared, this time entering the box for a short time. As I reported above, she was in the box again at 7.30am. She appeared at the entrance again at 8.13am, and at 11.17am she was in the box once more.

Strange, although I have seen the male coming to feed I have neither seen or heard him near the box today so far.

A Blue Tit looks into the nestbox


There has been another visitor to the box this morning. At 9.16am the camera caught this image of a Blue Tit looking in (but not entering), just as the male Starling was looking out of Starling box L.

This is the first BT inspection of the Tit box that I have recorded this year.


Both Starlings left their boxes before 6am this morning. Subsequently there were numerous visits to both boxes which came to an end by around 9.30am, with just a few small twigs brought in - hardly good progress as far as nest building is concerned, although with the present spell of cold weather continuing (Cloud, damp and 4C at mid-day) I'm not surprised.

Starlings prepare to roost



The pair returned to their separate boxes at 5.53pm and after some preening they settled down for the night, the female doing a couple of shuffles to clear her roosting area.




25 March - The Starlings started the day by leaving the boxes at 5.53am and their morning visits began at around 6.15am, carrying on for a couple of hours. This evening they were back in the boxes at around 5.45pm.

It was 6.32am when a Great Tit (I think the male) first appeared at the entrance, returning for another look at 6.48am.

Quad cctv image of Great Tit and Starling boxes


At 7.12am the male appeared for a third time, staying there for over two minutes before he entered.

He spent another two minutes inspecting the box, during which time the female Starling delivered a couple of twigs to Starling box R.

The Great Tit pair visiting the nest box



As soon as the female Great Tit arrived, the usual sequence occurred, with the male retiring to a corner, beak open before heading for the exit.


Quad cctv images showing Great Tit and Starling pairs


It was a pity that he didn't wait a few more seconds as it would have made an interesting quad image.

As he headed out, the male Starling was entering box R, followed by the Female Starling into box L.



The female Great Tit stayed in the box for around two minutes (including a couple of shuffles). There were no more inspections during the day, but I did see 'a face at the door' twice.


26 March - The Starlings' 'quiet honeymoon' came to an end this morning with the appearance on the scene of at least four other Starlings.

Our pair first left the boxes at around 5.45am, and visits started as usual a short while later. However, at 7am there was an extremely violent encounter in box R. The female was in the box when a second bird entered. She attacked it as it entered and kept attacking until it left. Another fight a couple of minutes later saw the female again defending the box.

I came down stairs shortly after 7am, and the noises I could hear picked up from outside the boxes by the Starling microphones had me heading outside. There were up to six Starlings flying around the boxes, and also approaching the Swift and Sparrow boxes (none of which they can access). Perhaps those earlier fights were when one of the visitors entered box R.

At 7.22am what looked like a visitor entered box R and poked about in the straw. AS soon as it left, two birds entered box L and another fight ensued. Again, at the end of that one it was our female that remained when the other bird had left.

By 8.15am things seemed to be quietening down, although the visiting Starlings were still about for a while afterwards, and at least one made a couple of inspections of box R.

As the day progresses there were occasional visits by the female and a couple by what I thing was our male (his markings are not so distinctive, so I cannot be sure).

At 1.35pm there was a bird in both boxes. The one in box L left it and attacked the female in box R. She saw him(?) off. An hour later the reverse occurs, with the female going from box R  to attack a bird that was in box L, and again it was she that won the fight.

Visits continued without further unpleasantness during the remainder of the afternoon until the female finally arrived in box R ready for the night at 6.06pm. However, box L remains empty - the male is not roosting here tonight.


The Great Tit box has had its highest number of visits so far, with the pair doing their usual 'male first / female second' inspection sequence five times (at 6.56am, 7.14am, 7.29am, 10.43am and 1.33pm), and the female making two lone visits at 8am and 8.33am.


27 March - On a very pleasant, sunny Spring day, with the temperature getting up to 10C this afternoon, the new arrivals continue to cause problems for the resident Starlings, and for a while this afternoon I wasn't sure who had possession of the boxes.

Having spent last night as the only occupant, 'our' female Starling left the box at 5.41am. At just after 6am she appeared briefly in box L . Judging by the sounds picked up by the microphones there was at least a couple of Starlings outside. Over the next hour there were only a couple of visits, both by the female. There were more visits between 7 - 9am, most of them by the female as far as I can tell.

Starlings in Swift box (Lower)At around 8.45am I went outside to take a look. There were a couple of Starlings near the Swift boxes so I came back inside to check the camera images. As you can see, the lower box had two occupants!

Shortly after I started watching, the pair decided it was time to leave. However, last year I changed the entrance to prevent them from getting access. That didn't work, but they had a terrible problem getting out again!

Starling in Swift box (Lower) - 2



Soon after 9am, as Sheila and I had our breakfast there was another visitor to the same box.

The box received an inspection, the camera almost got eaten(!) and the Starling cleared out the straw ring before


Starling struggles to leave Swift box


taking over five minutes to get itself out - at one point I wondered if it would be necessary to rescue it.

Once we had finished breakfast I got my ladder out, and along with replacing the straw I have placed blocks of wood over the two entrances. I intend to leave these in place for the next month, taking them out again at the end of April, in time for the arrival of the Swifts.


Starlings fight in box R - 1


The Starling boxes remained quiet with only a few visits until 10.38am, when two birds entered box R in quick succession and stared fighting immediately.

Yesterday's encounters were gentle in comparison, as the pair rolled around the floor of the box. For the first minute or so there was even a spectator looking in through the entrance.


Starlings fight in box R - 2


It was fifteen minutes later when one of the birds tried to head for the exit. It was unsuccessful and the fight continued, although by now there was a lot less wing flapping and there were frequent pauses, during which the pair held onto each other with their claws.

After 21 minutes the fight came to an end with one participant standing on the other.

Starlings fight in box R - the defeated bird leaves



The victor had a bit of trouble freeing itself but when it did, the second bird was left lying on its back with its legs in the air!

It stayed like this for over half a minute before it raised its head, got up and stretched its wings and left.



Within seconds a bird entered the box - was it the victor? It certainly looks like 'our' female.

It actually shuffled a couple of times, as though nothing had happened, but also took some bits of straw out when it left, an action repeated numerous times over the next hour or so. Taking nesting materials back out is behaviour I've seen in every nesting I've watched here, but why would she remove so much?


The resident female settles down to roost

For the rest of the day I couldn't be sure who was the 'owner' of box R as different birds came visiting without any more major incidents.

However, as evening arrived it was clear that the original female was the bird making the majority of visits, and her ownership was confirmed when she entered the box to roost at just before 6.45pm.

Box L is empty again tonight. Perhaps the male has gone off to a roost with the other Starlings.


At the other end of the garden the Tit box has been visited nine times today. Eight of those inspections were by the female alone, with the male visiting (along with his partner) just once at 8.15am. The female's last visit started at 3.48pm and lasted over 7 minutes.


28 March - After yesterday's antics amongst the Starlings, this morning has been remarkably quiet in the boxes - perhaps something to do with the dreary, damp conditions outside.

After making somewhat plaintive calls, the female was out of box R at 5.41am, although sounds form the microphones suggest that she only went as far as the aluminium screen at the side of the boxes before re-entering. Further calls from her attracted another bird to the entrance but it didn't enter. She left again for a moment, and this time as she returned to box R another bird entered box L. Within a minute, both birds left together. During the next fifteen minutes the second bird entered box L several times and I suspect that it may well be our original male.

Over the next half hour or so the boxes remained quiet, but the flickering of shadows across the entrances, along with sounds suggested that there were several Starlings active near the boxes.

It wasn't until 7.38am that I saw a different bird enter box R. It was wet, so it wasn't easy to make out markings, but it did perform a shuffle - perhaps our male?

After 8am the boxes became very quiet, with only a few visits seen during the rest of the morning, with no new nest materials brought in (or taken away).

The weather also seemed to have an effect on the Great Tits, and their first visit didn't happen until 7.48am.

The only other time that I saw them in the box during the morning was after the male appeared at the entrance at 8.39am for what turned out to be an interesting variation on the normal sequence seen during a visit by the pair.

Great Tit visit sequence - 1He spent over two minutes pecking at the outside of the box before entering.

As soon as he was in he started his inspection, stretching up as he did so.

However, he had less than ten seconds before the female appeared at the entrance. As usual, as soon as she started to enter he crouched low, beak open.


Great Tit visit sequence - 2


She landed in front of him, looked at him and then looked away.

This time, instead of heading for the exit he reached up and gave her a single peck on the side of her neck before turning towards the exit.


Great Tit visit sequence - 3


However, instead of flying up to it, he hopped towards the front of the box into a position behind the female.

Just as I wondered whether they were about to mate, the female turned her head towards him and, in an action which I guess is as near as you could get to a kiss in the bird world, she pecked him on his beak.


Great Tit visit sequence - 4


His response was to fly up to a corner of the box and look down towards her before flying back down to land in front of her before finally leaving the box.

The whole sequence was carried out with very little noise, certainly no loud calls.



Once her partner left the female spent the next eleven minutes in the box, mainly pecking at the wood and shuffling numerous times - the longest period of activity she has carried out so far.

During the rest of the day I saw a Great Tit look into the box a couple of times but just one more entry into the box, by the female at around 1.40pm

Starling at Sparrow terrace


Yesterday I forgot to mention that as well as getting into the Swift box, at least one Starling also attempted to gain access to a House Sparrow box  even though the 32mm holes are too small.

This afternoon, in strong, gusty winds that same box is streaming a length of garden twine, possibly taken in by a Sparrow and pulled out by a Starling this morning.


This evening I had a pleasant surprise to end the day. The female Starling appeared in box R at around 6.28pm. Five minutes later she moved into box L where she was joined soon afterwards by her partner. Over the next ten minutes there were comings and goings between the two boxes and by 6.45pm it looked as though the two birds were going to roost in their separate boxes as usual over the last few weeks.

Starling pair roost together in box LHowever, a few minutes later they left the boxes, and at 6.54pm both birds arrived at box L, the male following the female into the box. Once in, they settled down for the night quite quickly with little sign of the aggression seen on the previous couple of times that they have roosted together since I've been monitoring them.

As the lower image shows, they were both 'happy ' to allow their partner's beak to rest on them, something that just would not have happened the last time they spent the night together!



29 March - Nest building has begun for the Great Tits.

Great Tits start nest building


At just after 7.50am the female brought in the first wispy bits of what look like roots!  She continued to bring bits in, including some dried grass, for the next hour or so before stopping for the morning.

Another bit was brought in soon after 1.30pm, but I'm not sure how much more she will do today as it is raining this afternoon.




The Starlings are still having to contend with the newcomers, and this morning there was another fight, this time in box L, and which lasted over 30 minutes! At least at the end of it both birds left immediately, seemingly no worst for wear.

Looking through the recording of that fight it was interesting to try and identify the 'rules of the game', so to speak.

Starlings fight in box L - 1


The pair seemed to be already fighting as they entered the box, and for a while it was bedlam in there, with wings legs and beaks flailing around.




However, it was soon possible to see the strategies used by each bird to become dominant in the struggle.

Starlings fight in box L - 2

It seems that you need to get hold of your opponent's claws before he/she does the same to you.

Once that grip is established you then throw your opponent so that he is on his back. This means that not only are his legs and claws out of action, but the movement of his wings are also restricted.

One problem with this situation is that you cannot stand up, so much of the time both birds end up on their sides - then the first to use his wings gains the advantage.

Starlings fight in box L - 3


When you do succeed in getting on top, you still have to cope with the opponent's beak, so even when you have the upper hand(!) you need to keep your head low, but tucked up enough to restrict his head movement.

This also means that you cannot pull your head back in order to jab with your beak, but you can use your wings to push forward against your opponents body.


Starlings fight in box L - 4


Every time you relax slightly, your opponent will fight back, and eventually one of you will start to get tired of being poked by your opponent's beak. Then, if you can break the grip he has on your foot, you can use your claws to muzzle his beak.

In the right-hand image both bird are taking a rest before one restarts hostilities all over again.




Starlings fight in box L - 5

As time goes on these 'time outs' occur more frequently and last longer.

The right-hand images shows the pair not long before the fight ended. The bird propped up in the corner was slowly slipping down like a drunk at the end of a long night in the pub! Both have a claw by the opponent's beak.

Shortly afterwards there was another flurry of activity before they left the box with no clear winner.

Tonight the female Starling is roosting alone in box R. Before she settled down she spent some time in box L and a couple of times went to the entrance and called, presumably for her partner, but without success.

Great Tit nestbox at 6pm



By 6pm, when these images were captured, there had been no further additions made to the Great Tit nest. I shall be watching with interest tomorrow morning....




30 March - From Today all timings are based on BST (British Summer Time).

I've taken much of the day off, but I've seen enough to say that things were a lot quieter for the Starlings today.

Starling with straw



The bringing in of nesting materials has restarted, although some gets taken back out again, so progress isn't as good as it could be.



Starling pair meet in box R


The nearest I saw to an 'incident' in the boxes was when the female returned to box R to find her partner resting in a corner.

As soon as she entered he spun round and headed for the exit, getting a peck on the back as her passed the female, and another on his rear end when he took too long to get out - totally different to the levels of aggression seen over the last couple of day.


Tonight again it is only the female Starling that is roosting here - in box R.

Great Tit - early nest building



The Great Tit female (no sign of the male in the box now!) had sessions of nest building first thing this morning and then in the late afternoon.




Great Tit - nest foundations

After dusk I changed the glass at the back of the box, made a couple of adjustments to the cctv cameras, and took the opportunity to test out the flash arrangement to record the nesting progress so far.

As I thought, the majority of the material brought in so far consists of roots, and a green plant complete with leaves and which looks like a grass.




Great Tit - nest at 8.30am, with moss added31 March - At 8.30am, it is twelve hours since I took that photograph of the Great Tits' nest and this morning it has changed colour as the female has switched to bringing in moss.

As I write this (at 9.20am) the male has just been looking in (but didn't enter), and calling, before getting out of the way as his partner arrived with another beakful of moss.

She then spent a minute or two shuffling to compact the moss and roosts around the sides of the box. She pecked at both the glass and the entrance before leaving.

Her first visit this morning was at 7.33am when she arrived with a long piece of root in her beak.

Great Tit female gathers moss


Here she is, gathering moss from the slope up to the West Wing, shortly before 1pm. She was in the middle of a busy lunchtime session, bringing in mot just moss but also more lengths of root, which I guess acts a bit like a skeleton for the softer moss greenery.


Great Tit nest at 7pm


To emphasise how much the female has achieved during the day his evening I thought I'd add another image to show the nest at 7pm.

For the moment I'm including stills from the cctv coverage, but after dark I intend to take a high resolution photograph with a still camera.



Starling nest box R at 7pmMaterials are also being brought into the Starling box R, although progress is more difficult to see as both birds continue to take bits back out!

This image was captured at 7pm, just before the female arrived. I don't expect her to settle for the night yet as it is still 6pm GMT, the time zone used until the clocks changed  to BST two nights ago.

I suppose that to be consistent in the timings that I use I should continue to use GMT timings, except that I would no doubt get myself totally confused!

I was proved wrong - the female Starling didn't leave again this evening, and is now roosting alone in box R.

She had started the day by leaving the box at 6.33am (BST) and it was 7.22am when I first saw the male enter either box.

Great Tit nest - taken with Olympus E-20 camera tonight


As promised, a higher resolution picture of the Great Tit nest taken tonight. You can see the 'scaffold' of roots that are mixed in with the green moss foliage.

I changed the glass again before taking the photograph, and afterwards I moved the side-view cctv camera closer again to take into account the new depth of the nest.


Click on the images to see larger versions -

2008 Nestbox Diary Index............Previous Chapter.......... April (Part 1)