The 2009 Nestbox Diary

January to March (part 2)

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10 January - Another cold morning, with the temperature remaining below -1C seems to be having an effect on the Starlings, with only a small number of box visits.

When the recordings started at 6.30am the pair were in the same positions as I saw them last night, with the male in 'his' corner below the camera and the female facing in the opposite direction at the other end of the box.

At 6.44am the male suddenly pulled his head out from under his plumage on the right side of its body, and let out a couple of loud squawks before tucking his head back under. That disturbed his partner, but she didn't react, and kept still. A few minutes later and he was calling again, this time from under the cover of his plumage - do birds dream???

The female was, by now fully alert and when she stretched her wings the male suddenly became alert, there was a quick squabble, and the pair had started their morning preening by 6.55am. By 7.10am they were waiting for the right moment to leave, with the male nearest the exit. However, when they did depart it was the female who once again headed out first.

A I suggested at the beginning of the entry, it has been a quiet morning in the boxes, with the Great Tit box having no visits, and the Starling boxes getting far fewer than the previous two days, as you can see here -

8 - 9am: 12 to box L, none to box R

9 - 10am: 4 to box L, none to box R

10 - 11am: no visits

11 - 12am: no visits

12 - 1pm: just 1 visit to box L

1 - 2pm: no visits

2 - 3pm: no visits

3 - 4pm 1 to box L, 1 to box R (in quick succession at 3.56pm)

Despite the lack of visits the Starlings were about the garden for most of the day. I saw them feeding here, and even bathing in the icy water of the bird bath. In fact there was a third Starling about for some of the time - was it yesterday's intruder? I know that at least one Starling is roosting in the loft of a house further down along our road.

It seems like a lifetime ago when we used to look out regularly onto a flock of dozens of Starlings that would descend onto the food that we had put out. I even devised methods of protecting some of the food from them so that the smaller birds would have a chance to feed. Now, seeing an 'extra' Starling in the garden is worth of note!

Starling female dominates clash with male - 1It may have been a quiet day, but this evening brought a bit of interest to roosting time.

The female arrived in box L at 4.05pm and it was another eight minutes before her partner arrived. As soon as he entered he headed for the female and the squabbling started.

However, this time it was obvious that the female was the dominant partner as she raised herself high above the male and eventually he backed off across the box.


Starling female dominates clash with male - 2

He seemed to hesitate briefly, then at 4.17pm he headed for the exit, his departure being encouraged with a couple of pecks on his backside from the female.

When he reappeared at 4.20pm it was to enter box R, where he has remained ever since.

At 6pm both have their heads tucked under the plumage on the right sides of their bodies. Perhaps they will sleep undisturbed tonight!



11 January - A mainly bright, but blustery morning with the temperature rising quickly, approaching 9C by 1pm.

CCTV cameras and housingsThis morning I took myself off to the local car-boot sale and came home with a couple of colour cctv cameras in water-proof (or at least water-resistant) housings. Conveniently, another seller provided suitable 12v supplies for them. So far I've tested the one you see opened up here, and it works well.

They won't be suitable for night-time use or within nestboxes, but one of these may well be used up to monitor the exterior of my Robin box when the start of the nesting season gets closer.

Back to the nestboxes -

The Great Tit box had just a brief 'look in' by one of the Great Tits which didn't enter the box.

The Starlings before they awoke



The Starling pair, still in separate boxes, were still very much asleep at 6.30am and as this image shows, they were still 'tucked in' at 6.54am. However, both were preening by 7am.


The Starlings leave before dawn


It was another 12 minutes before the male started looking out. The female moved to the exit at 7.22am, and after another minute it was she who left first, followed immediately by the male.



I wondered what difference today's milder conditions would make to their behaviour so again I've gone though the day's recording to count the visits -

8 - 9am: 29 to box L, 8 to box R

9 - 10am: 11 to box L, 3 to box R

10 - 11am: no visits

11 - 12am: no visits

12 - 1pm: no visits

1 - 2pm: no visits

2 - 3pm: 2 to box L and sounds on the recording indicate that a Starling perched on the aluminium screen on numerous occasions during that hour.

3 - 3.30pm 3 to box L, 2 to box R (in quick succession at 3.56pm)

After that things got a bit more complicated, with both birds going in and out of the two boxes.

The female Starling dominates her mateIn this final encounter of the day, the male was at the camera end of box L when the female entered. She pecked at him, but he retreated rather than retaliating. She then pushed past him, forcing him to move towards the entrance. He spent some time preening while the female appeared to ignore him, and eventually left, helped on his way by a peck on his wing.

He headed into box R at 3.55pm and despite looking out several times he stayed inside, and they both settled down to roost with heads tucked under their plumage (right side) by 4.45pm.


12 January - A short entry on a miserable, dull and wet day with constant drizzle and a temperature of around 8C hardly changing all day.

In these horrible conditions there were no visits to the Great Tit box and surprisingly few by the Starlings. After they left the boxes at 7.28am, neither reappeared until after 9am, when there were five visits to box L before 9.30am. Just after 10am there were another four visits to box L and then no more until 3.42pm.

Then, over a period of just a few minutes the female went a couple of times into both boxes. She popped into both boxes again at 4pm and then three minutes later both birds turned up, with the male in box L and his partner in box R, both leaving within a minute.

The female immediately went into box L and stayed there. Her partner didn't reappear for another five minutes, going into box R when he did so.

Both birds spent quite a while preening, and it was the male that settled first, at 4.45pm while the female didn't settle until nearly 5pm.

Restless Starlings at 9.30pm


At 8pm it was the female that had her head up while the male appeared to be fast asleep, but at 9.30pm both birds are awake - are they having trouble with the milder night?




13 January - A brighter, dry day and I was doing some sorting in our bedroom when I noticed the Great Tit pair flitting about at the bottom of the garden.

Great Tits visit at 10.21am


Sure enough, a couple of minutes later, at 10.21am the female entered the nest box for an inspection that lasted a couple of minutes. The male didn't enter but just looked in several times during his partner's visit.

The first time that he looked in the female's reaction was to crouch down slightly and look towards him with her beak open (although she remained silent). After that she seemed to ignore the rest of his appearances at the entrance.



The Starlings were preening by 6.45am, and the male was looking out by 6.50am, but it was 7.24am before they left, the female taking the lead once again.

Their day followed a familiar pattern  -

8 - 9am: 21 to box L, 11 to box R

9 - 10am: 4 to box L, 0 to box R

10 - 11am: 3 to box L, 0 to box R

11 - 12am: no visits

12 - 1pm: no visits, although there were the sounds of birds on the aluminium screen

1 - 2pm: no visits

2 - 3pm: 2 to box L, 1 to box R

3 - 4pm: 3 to box L, 0 to box R

After 4pm the female visited both boxes a couple of times before she retired to box L for the night at 4.20pm. The male arrived in box L four minutes later, and both birds settled down within fifteen minutes.

Starlings visits at 8.56amAs usual, nearly all the day's visits were made by the female. Her partner only appeared a couple of times, and when he did he spent time looking around and looking out, only pecking at the woodwork occasionally.

These images show him in box R at 8.56am while the female was working hard on the bottom of box L.


14 January - Another day with something to report from both boxes.

First, at 10.10am there was another visit by the Great Tit female, although there was no male at the entrance this time. She stayed for nearly three minutes.

For the Starlings it was a relatively quiet day. They were both looking out by 7am but didn't leave until 7.18am (female out first). The rest of the day went as follows -

8 - 9am: 9 to box L, 2 to box R

9 - 10am: 3 to box L, 5 to box R

10 - 11am: 2 to box L, 1 to box R

11 - 12am: no visits

12 - 1pm: 1 to box L, 1 to box R

1 - 2pm: no visits

2 - 3pm: no visits

3 - 4pm: 1 to box L, 0 to box R

The end of the day came without the usual comings and goings. The female entered box L at 4.17pm and the male arrived in box R at 4.21pm, and had his head tucked under his plumage by 4.28pm.


Great Tit female visits at 1.18pm15 January - The Great Tit visits are becoming regular now with another inspection by the female today, although we had to wait until the early afternoon this time (1.18pm), following a Great Tit having looked in some five minutes earlier.

Unlike yesterday's inspection, the male stayed away this during this visit.




There was a slight change in emphasis by the Starling female today as she paid box R more attention. The pair (in their separate boxes) were preening by 6.40am and looking out just after 7am before they left at 7.24am. It was over an hour before the female made her first visit of the morning at 8.31am. Including that visits, the day's visits were -

8 - 9am: 6 to box L, 8 to box R

9 - 10am: 5 to box L, 12 to box R

10 - 11am: 1 to box L, 4 to box R

11 - 12am: 1 to box L, 0 to box R

12 - 1pm: no visits

1 - 2pm: no visits

2 - 3pm: no visits

3 - 4pm: 1 to box L, 1 to box R (both visits by female in within a minute)

After 4pm the female made several visits to both boxes before entering box L to roost at 4.22pm. The male also visited box R a couple of times before he entered it to roost at 4.26pm. It's interesting to note that on the last two days he hasn't even attempted to enter box L when he arrives to roost.

Starlings roosting at 5pmHe settled before the female, and this pair of images show the two birds at 5pm. They are easily disturbed by any noise outside, but so far they seem more settled than on the last few nights.


The records over the last eight days have shown a quite well defined pattern of behaviour by the Starlings. On average they have left at around 7.20am. There is then a gap until after 8am before the female makes her first visit.  The female makes the vast majority of  the daytime visits to the boxes, with most occurring between 8 - 10am. Although there are few afternoon visits, the audio recordings suggest that one or both Starlings do spend some time in the vicinity of the boxes, even if they do not actually enter them. Roosting has taken place anywhere between 3.50 - 4.25pm, and seems to be dependent on light levels, with earlier times when there has been heavy cloud cover.

The big change during the eight days has been the change from the pair roosting together to roosting apart.

Having recorded the daily summary of Starling visits over the last eight days, for the next couple of weeks I shall be recording only the dawn departure and evening arrival times over the next couple of weeks to see how they react to the lengthening days. I will keep more detailed records again nearer to the nesting season. Of course, if anything especially interesting occurs than I will be reporting on it.


- Click on the images to see larger versions -

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