The 2008 Nestbox Diary

May - Part 2

The chicks grow up 

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7 May - 8/9 days since hatching - Another glorious day with the temperature exceeding 25C this afternoon.

A Great Tit chick out of the nest cup


During the morning I was somewhat surprised to see that one of the chicks was not just completely out of the nest cup, but it was standing in the corner of the box.

I headed down to the box to capture the moment. Unfortunately the glass was a bit dirty and the mark can be seen on the following images.

And there is now no doubt about eyes being open!

A Great Tit chick is fed with a spider



Here, that chick receives a spider from its father.



As this cctv image shows, it wasn't just the one chick that decided  to venture out from the remnants of the nest cup.

A Great Tit parent loses its balance



The fragile state of the nest, along with wandering chicks means that when a parent arrives it has to tread carefully. This one had to make a quick adjustment as it was about to feed a chick.


A Great Tit parent removes a faecal sac


Having fed the chick, the parent normally waits for a short time, watching out for the appearance of a faecal sac. If a sac isn't forthcoming, the chick will sometimes be pecked as if that will stimulate it to produce one.




In contrast to this, in the Starling box the chicks will eject a faecal sac with some force, usually onto the side of the nest, and the adult has to pick it up from wherever it lands.

This practice may go some way towards explaining the presence of flies in the box. As I write this I'm also watching the female Starling pecking at her chicks - she appears to be cleaning them, perhaps of the many mites that are present?

By the early afternoon the chicks had settled back down in the expanded nest cup, now with its overhangs completely collapsed. It was the early evening before I returned to the box (now in shade and a bit cooler!).

With the chicks so much bigger, and spread out now, the size of the front-silvered mirror I use is a bit restricting. Since nesting began I managed to obtain a larger mirror and I intend to make a holder for it ready for next year. Anyway, back to the chicks.


A Great Tit chick this evening



First, the back of the only chick that was  clearly visible when I first arrived.



A Great Tit chick's head. showing its left ear



Next, another chance to see a ear. It won't be very long before it is completely hidden by feathers.

I've not been able to get an image that shows a ear on a Starling chick.


A Great Tit chick's wing, showing feathers emerging



A clearer picture to show the emergence of feathers, both light and dark from their sheaths.


A Great Tit chick preens its developing breast feathers



And finally, this is the first time that I've seen one of this brood preening, although it has a long way to go before it looks as smart as its parents!




The Starling chicks this evening


There is little to report on in the Starling box today. The parents continue to make their food deliveries, and the youngsters have not yet shown any interest in exploring their box, preferring to stay huddled together in the nest cup.



At approaching 8.30pm the Starling female is starting to settle down in the nest cup with her chicks, although they tend to be in front of her rather than underneath now. In the Great Tit box, at night mum has started spending a lot of time at the side of the box ( I had meant to mention that yesterday), and as I write this she is standing in a corner next to the glass and with her back towards the chicks.


The Great Tit chicks8 May -  9/10 days since hatching - It seems that over the last week the Great Tit clutch has reduced from seven to six. It's only since the nest collapsed that it has become obvious that there are only six chicks - I've counted them several times today and cannot see any sign of a seventh chick.

Here are the six survivors, and look carefully and you can spot their mum clearing the bottom of the nest - which as far as I can tell is now the bare wood of the box.


A Great Tit chick



With the much larger nest cup the chicks have not wandered as much today, and in the short time that I spent at the box this morning, this was the nearest I saw one get to climbing out of the hollow.


A green caterpillar is delivered



Here, mum has brought in a green caterpillar that looks as though it could be made of plastic!



The head of a Great Tit chick


Just two close-ups today - the first shows a head in profile.

If you compare it with with the images of a head recorded a few days ago and you can see how the beak is gradually losing its wide gape, and the feathers growing to cover the ear.


Great Tit chicks - a close-up of developing feathers



And this shows the progress made by some of the wing feathers.


A Starling chick stretches a wing



The Starling chicks continue to stay put in their nest cup, although this image shows (not too clearly) how their wing feathers are developing.


Starling chicks greet their mother



And, all five chicks seem to be doing well at this stage, and can now stretch pretty tall when there is food on offer.





9 May - 10/11 days since hatching - Another very warm day, with the temperature just about getting to 25C.

The Great Tit chicks today


Just three pictures from the Great Tit box today. This first one shows just how the pink, bare areas of the chicks are rapidly disappearing under the cover of the developing feathers, especially on their heads.

Also, notice how much darker the tops of the beaks have become in just a day.


A Great Tit chick this evening



I'm including this second picture became it shows how much more some feathers have unfurled, and also includes a (slightly out of focus) tail.


The Great Tit mum with caterpillar



Finally, I wasn't set up for a wider shot when this caterpillar was brought in so I went for the close-up instead.




For the Starlings today was a definite step forward as the chicks ventured out of the nest cup, especially in the afternoon.

Unlike the Great Tits, the Starling parents will often return to the nest with multiple food items and I though I would record two such visits in this entry.

The Starling parent delivers some insects - sequence 1


The first occurred this morning when the parent brought in what appeared to be several insects.

Three chicks begged for food and she put an insect in each mouth.


The Starling parent delivers some insects - sequence 2



However, she(?) then noticed that the insect given to the central chick was still alive and moving.

At first it looked as though she tried to push the insect down into the chick's throat. Then she picked it up, held it in her beak for a moment and then popped it into the left hand chick's mouth instead - all very delicately done.


The Starling chicks greet a parent - 1By this afternoon the parents were getting a much more energetic response on entering the box. In this picture, recorded as the parent blocked out the external light, you can see the furthest chick is clearly away from the nest cup.

 A few of the details already familiar from the Great Tit pictures, such as the dark band of developing feathers down the spine of the chick, a stubby tail, and definite progress in the development of flight feathers.


The Starling chicks greet a parent - 2


Moments later, with light getting in again you can see how the flight feathers are at a similar stage to those of the Great Tits, with just a small part of each feather unfurled out of the end of its sheath.


The Starling parent brings mealworms


And what was all the excitement over - I had just put out a small number of re-hydrated mealworms.

This time there was no sign of the delicate touch seen this morning. The mealworms (I think there were six) were pushed into the mouths of just two chicks.



10 May - 11/12 days since hatching - With the temperature getting up to nearly 30C in shady parts of the garden, it may have been to the Great Tit chicks' benefit that there are only six of them.

Just a few photographs from their box today (it was just too hot to spend much time there). The first three pictures for a sequence this evening around 7.10pm.

Great Tit chick receives a caterpillar



First, the mother brought in a quite large green caterpillar which was taken eagerly by the first chick it was offered to.



Great Tit female waits while her partner feeds a chick



Then the male arrived and fed a second chick with what looked like a brown caterpillar.


Great Tit parents wait to remove a faecal sac


Then both parent waited as that chick raised its rear end to produce a faecal sac ( and show its tail feathers!). Although the male pecked at it, it was the female who took the sac out of the box, followed closely by her partner.



Great Tit chicks this evening


I took just a few pictures of the chicks themselves tonight, and these when the chicks were disturbed by their mum rummaging about in the nest cup.

You can now see clearly the white patch at the nape of the neck, and the ears are just about completely covered.


Great Tit chick - 1



In this cropped enlargement of the right-hand chick you can see how many of the body feathers are quite well developed . The downy feathers that the chick has had ever since hatching are still there, and I like the white eyelashes!



Great Tit chick - 2


This is a cropped enlargement of the left-hand chick after it moved slightly to show more of the white patch at the back of its neck.

It suggests that this chick may be slightly further developed that the one pictured above. Could this be one of the chicks that hatched on 28 April, with the right-hand chick hatching on the 29th?


No Starling pictures today but a scare for the female. I was draw outside at around 8.45pm by her making distress calls from the Hawthorn. I looked around to see why she was distressed to find a cat had climbed up the short sloping roof that we have at the end of our kitchen and was attempting to reach the Starling box from there. It box was out of her reach, but she was close enough to cause a great deal of stress to the mother. The cat soon left(!) and mum was able to join her chicks for the night.

The female Great Tit wasn't in the nestbox when recording started at 4am today, so I'm recording the Great Tit box through the night to see what happens tonight.


11 May - 12/13 days since hatching, with another week to go before both families fledge - I shall start with the Starling box, from which I have mixed news.

Starling box, showing dead chick this evening


First of all, a chick has died, reducing the clutch to four.

I have indicated where the dead chick is lying. The parents seem to be ignoring it, even when checking around it for faecal sacs.


The five Starling chick, alive at dawn



All five chicks were alive and able to beg for food at dawn this morning, and they all remained active until after 9am.



Last images of a dying Starling chick

Then, it became noticeable that one was no longer able to hold its head up with its siblings, and by 9.30am it wasn't responding to the arrival of a parent (top-middle image).

Within the next half-hour it was being trampled on as the rest of the chicks competed for food (right-hand image).

By 11am it must have died as the position of its beak in the bottom picture then remained unchanged for the rest of the day.


It has been very warm here again today, with the official high just below 26C but several degrees hotter in the shaded areas of the garden. The Starlings have been getting regular feeds (my neighbour confirms that) so I'm wondering if the high temperatures may be a factor in the death of the chick, although as it died in the morning this doesn't seem to be the case, at least not directly.

The Starling box is on the north side of the house where it is in shade for most of the day, but because it is situated near the western corner of the wall, it is exposed to sunshine in the late afternoon. It is made of wood which is 1" thick and the lid doesn't fit tightly, so there should not be over-heating problems because of its position. 

Starling parent at box entrance



As you may have noticed in the first of today's images, there is was chick near the entrance when the image was captured. This happened quite a lot today, and several times today I've seen the chicks fed at the entrance, with the parent remaining outside.



First glimpses from outside the box of the Starling chicks


This evening I set up my camera across the driveway from the nest boxes and watched the chicks remotely using my laptop. While it wasn't possible to photograph them while the parent was at the box I did manage to capture these first glimpses of chicks while drinking coffee!



CCTV image of the Great Tit chicks and their mother


At the other end of the garden, the six Great Tit chicks still survive, although I wonder how the heat is affecting them.

The conditions certainly prevented me from spending more than a few minutes at the box during the day, even when it was in the shade in the late afternoon.


The Great Tit chicks this evening


As their plumage develops quickly the chicks have now reached the stage when they are beginning to look like Great Tits,



A Great Tit chick this evening


although when you look more closely you can see that there is still a lot to happen before they are ready to fledge.

There is no sign yet of them doing much in the way of wing stretching, and they continue to remain silent.


Detail of the Great Tit chicks' feathers



I'm including this last image, an almost abstract view of the back of two chicks, to emphasise the stage that feather development has reached.

Unlike previous feather pictures, feather sheaths are far less in evidence.


The Great Tit mother leaves before dawn this morning


As I said in yesterday's entry, I recorded through the night to check on what the mother would do, and it showed that she remained in the box until 5.11am.

The first feed of the day came just 7 minutes later.


A Great Tit chick spreads its wings before dawn this morning


When the next food delivery occurred a few minutes later a chick spread its wings in a way I had not seen previously.

Even in the poor lighting you can see that the flight feathers were still largely confined to their sheaths.




12 May - 13/14 days since hatching - about 6/7 days to go. Despite the continued attention of both parents another Starling chick has died, and at 2pm one of the surviving three doesn't look that enthusiastic when food is offered.

The death of another Starling chickAt the end of the day there are three chicks alive although if you look at the webcam it may seem that there are actually four.

In these two images,  the left-hand picture shows the three live chicks. A few seconds later and there appear to be four. However, the fourth chick (arrowed) has died so that it still seems to be looking at the entrance.

I'm surprised that the adults (both still come to the nest) don't attempt to remove the dead chicks.


It wasn't as hot today, and a north-easterly breeze would have blown down the length of our shared driveway and helped keep the box cool. I'm beginning to wonder if there is a food problem. Despite the very warm weather, the garden is hardly swarming with insects, and one of the Starlings' favourites, the cranefly has been noticeable by its absence so far. I have only seen one large specimen so far this nesting season. If I don't fall asleep after finishing this diary entry I hope to go through today's recording to see how many visits the parents have made today.


Great Tit mother arrives with a big Green caterpillar

The Great Tits' brood continues to thrive.

Here, mum brings a large green caterpillar, and I've seen large brown ones brought in as well. Interestingly, I've seen (but not photographed) mum bring in pinkish coloured food pellets, the sort you sometimes see in bird food mixtures.

Notice the pink, bare area on the breast that is exposed when the chick is stretching for food. Today for the first time I heard the chicks when they were begging for food - perhaps I'll get a recording of them tomorrow.

Great Tit chicks resting in nest cup



In between feeds they still spend some time resting in the nest cup, and I though this might make a nice portrait!


Great Tit chick at the side of the box


Those quiet times don't last long during the day now, and chicks are frequently hauling themselves out of the nest cup.

It's five days since I started this page, and the first entry contains an image of a chick in a similar pose - it's worth scrolling back up to it so see how much development has taken place during this time.

Notice how the external ear is no longer visible. The wing feathers look pretty well formed, if rather short in this picture, but


Great Tit chick flaps its wings, perhaps for the first time


while I was down at the box tonight I saw a chick not just stretch its wings but flap them vigorously for the first time.

It's clear that there is still quite a bit of feather still contained inside sheaths.



Great Tit chick flaps its wings - showing the thumb feathers (Alula)

Back on 29 April a photograph I took of the newly emerged chicks showed the thumb on one of their wings. I've not had the opportunity to record one since, but In these pictures you can see the group of feathers that grow from the thumb. They are the small feathers protruding from the left-hand (leading) edge of the wing.

This group of feathers are called the Alula and while normally kept flat against the wing, they can be extended to act as a flap, helping prevent stalling at slow speeds.


Getting back to the Starlings, I have now gone through the day's recordings, counting the visits by parents -

The female first left the box at 5.04am, and the last feed of the day occurred at around 8.30pm, and I recorded the number of visits each hour between these times:

5 - 6am        19 visits
6 - 7am         8 visits
7 - 8am        10 visits
8 - 9am        28 visits
9 - 10am      16 visits
10 - 11am    13 visits
11 - noon      7 visits
noon - 1pm    3 visits
1 - 2pm       14 visits
2 - 3pm       11 visits
3 - 4pm        8 visits
4 - 5pm        9 visits
5 - 6pm       14 visits
6 - 7pm        5 visits
7 - 8pm       10 visits
8 - 8.30pm    5 visits

That makes a total of 180 visits.

While that total may look quite reasonable, on many of the visits the parents brought in only very small food items, and during a few visits I don't think anything was given to any chicks.  In fact I saw very few large insects brought in, and certainly nothing with long legs (ie. craneflies). It does make me think that there is a food supply problem. With very few Starlings in the neighbourhood, and the Brickfields Country Park, allotments and school playing fields within each reach (as well as all the gardens) I would have thought that the Starlings should have been able to find 'rich pickings'. Perhaps the present weather conditions are having an effect.

There is rain forecast for Wednesday night. perhaps that will encourage the emergence of more insects, if it is not too late for the remaining chicks.

The chick that died was active at the beginning of the day but soon after 8am it was obvious that one was less able beg for food. By 10am it was hardly responding to anything, and died within the hour.  I still find it strange that the parent could come into the box, spend time cleaning the nest cup and completely ignore the dead chicks.


Click on the images to see larger versions -

2008 Nestbox Diary Index.............Previous Chapter........... May (Part 3)