The 2009 Nestbox Diary

January to March (part 5 - February)

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10 February - A miserable, wet start to the day had the Starlings delaying their departure this morning.

The male Starling was alert by 6.40am but his partner didn't start moving for another ten minutes, and they didn't leave the box until 7.16am.

The female made her first visits to both boxes at 7.50am, and appeared just six times more before 9am.

Male/female sequence in Starling boxAt 9.19am came the pair's only nestbox encounter of the day. The male entered box R and started calling.  At first the female looked into box L, but soon joined her partner. However, as soon as she entered box R it looked as though she would leave again.

Then she turned towards him, raised her body high and dashed towards him. He showed no aggression towards her, but instead he somehow passed under her and headed for the exit. He left the box before she could give him her usual peck, and went straight to box L. Half a minute later they both left.

Following that rather inconclusive interaction the boxes became much quieter, with just three more appearances by the female before noon and then the usual gap until the late afternoon.

Then the first to appear was the male at 4.48pm. some forty minutes later the female inspected both boxes and both birds were in their separate boxes by 4.50pm. However, they didn't stay, the female going out again at 4.57pm and the male at 5.04pm, the different times suggesting that this time their departures were not caused by human disturbance.

Anyway, they were back in the boxes at 5.09pm, tucking their heads under soon after 5.30pm.

Great Tit pair interaction in nestboxThe overnight rain had stopped by 10.24am when the Great Tit male appeared at the entrance of their box. After about a half-minute later he entered, but he had only started to look around before his partner appeared at the entrance.

As usual in these encounters he greeted her from a crouched position, with beak wide open and only a muted call. As soon as she started to look around, appearing to ignore him, he looked up at the exit, headed past her and left.

The female stayed for almost a minute before leaving.

At 4.08pm the male was at the entrance again, looking in and once again making those quiet calls that I recorded previously (see the previous page).


11 February - On a day that stayed dry and bright (We had rain showers once the Starlings had gone to roost) it was a surprisingly quiet day for both pairs of birds. The Great Tits didn't even look into their box today, and only twice did the Starlings meet up within a box, and one of those encounters was a non-event!

Male Starling preens and stretches in the morning



The male starling was moving about by 6.35am, the female by 6.40am, and they left at 6.57am.

These are some images of the male as he sorted himself out.



The female made her first visit (box L) at 7.21am and had returned five times before the male went into box L and started calling. His partner entered soon after but appeared to ignore him. In fact she left briefly, and came back in before leaving again, with him close behind.

Several times over the next hour the male entered one or other of the boxes and started singing again but with no responses from his partner.

Female Starling shuffles in box L



At just after 9am the female went into box L, pecked at the woodwork a few times and performed two enthusiastic shuffles.



Male Starling brings grass into box RAt 9.40am the male turned up in box R with a long piece of grass(?) in his beak.

No sooner had he flicked it to the floor than he suddenly crouched as a head appeared at the entrance. He flew at the intruder which disappeared immediately, and he stood 'on guard' for about quarter of a minute.

When a face appeared again it was definitely the female, and at first he retreated.

Female Starling removes grass from box R



However, as soon as she landed he flew past her and headed out very quickly.

Once on her own the female gave the box a bit of an inspection, picked up the grass, and left with it!



The rest of the day was quiet until the female reappeared in box L at 4.46pm before the pair entered their usual boxes to roost at 4.56pm and settled for the night some twenty minutes later.


12 February - A bright morning had the Starlings leaving early again, and there was a Great Tit visit.

The Starlings were alert before 6.45am and had left their boxes by 6.54am. The female made her first visits at 7.29am. The male didn't reappear until 8.20am, first in box L and then box R. There, he started singing and straight away the female entered. She stayed by the entrance and just glanced at him several times before leaving. He went into box L and tried again, but this time the female didn't appear.

The female visited both boxes several times before the male's next appearance at 9.31am. This time he went into box L, pecked at the floor and performed what I can only describe as a mini-shuffle, with none of the enthusiasm shown by his partner. When she entered his first response was to attack her, but that was quickly over and he left. The female went on to resume the floor cleaning as though nothing had happened.

The boxes soon fell quiet and the next visitor was the female again at 1.44pm.

At the end of the afternoon the female popped into box L briefly at 4.46pm before the male entered box R at 4.52pm. A minute later the female also entered box R and was attacked briefly before the male retired to the camera end of the box. The female stayed by the entrance, much as she did this morning, staying for about a minute before she finally headed for box L to roost.

Male Great Tit feeds on peanut


Down at the Great Tit box it was just the female who inspected the box for about a minute at 10.45am after the male had spent a short time outside the entrance. A few minutes later one of the pair appeared again outside the entrance.

This is the first time I've managed close to a clear shot of the male Great Tit so far this year. He's in the Hawthorn, pecking has way through a peanut that is clamped securely under his right foot.




13 February - A very quiet day in the Starling boxes, and no visits to the Great Tit box.

The Starlings were alert by 6.30am and they left by 6.51am on a bright morning. The female's first visit to the boxes was at 7.43am and she made frequent visits to both boxes over the next few minutes.

She was in box L at 7.48pm when the male entered. She flew at him and he turned and left immediately. This was the only time that both birds were seen in the boxes at the same time, and the only visit by the male during the morning.

The female's visits carried on quite frequently until after 9am, and then became more spaced out until around 10am when they stopped completely until the end of the afternoon.

Then she didn't appear until 4.46pm, going into both boxes several times. It wasn't until 5.14pm that she entered box L to roost, the male entering box R a minute later. The male was the first to tuck his head under, at 5.27pm. His partner didn't stop preening for another five minutes.


14 February - The lengthening days are certainly being reflected in the Starlings' start and finish times.

This morning they were active by 6.40am, out of the boxes at 6.49am, and the female's first visit was at 7.15am.

She had made several visits to both boxes before the male entered box L at 7.39am and started calling. Although the female was outside she didn't enter, and as he left she went into box R.

At 7.58am the pair did meet up, in box R -

Starling sequence in box R this morning - 1The male entered first and hadn't started calling when a shadow at the entrance indicated another bird was about. Immediately the male retreated to the camera end of the box and crouched low down.

The female entered with some gusto, but at first it appeared that she was going to ignore him, as sometimes happens. Suddenly, she turned, dashed across the box and onto his back. He remained still and she turned away again,


Starling sequence in box R this morning - 2


and headed towards the exit.

Having looked out she once again turned and headed for the male, who had remained motionless.

This time the female went over his head and he responded by twisting around and went to the other end of the box where he looked out before turning towards his partner and appeared to threaten her with an open beak.


Starling sequence in box R this morning - 3

Her reaction was to raise herself up high over him. He went back into a crouched, subservient position, remaining that way while the female inspected the floor of the box.

Then, when she approached him once more he sprung to the exit and left, the female leaving immediately afterwards.

A fascinating encounter, and with some parallels to what happens when the male Great Tit gives way to its partner during encounters in their box. There was no doubt as to who was the dominant partner!


That was the only 'in box' encounter of the day, and the female made only a few visits in the next hour. She shuffled during a visit to box L at 9.30am, and the last visit of the morning took place at 9.45am.

My activities in the garden between around 10.30am to 3pm (with numerous breaks!) may well have been a factor in the lack of visits between 9.45am and when both birds appeared (in seperate boxes) at 5.06pm. They left after a few minutes but returned to roost at 5.15pm. The male had his head tucked under within five minutes, although the female didn't do so for another quarter of an hour.

Last night I recorded the Starlings through the night. They are not the soundest of sleepers, and it is easy to see why, especially as I fast forward through the recording. During day time recordings I see the occasional fuzzy spot as a mite crosses the front of a camera lens. However, at night there is constant movement across the lenses of both cameras - no wonder that the Starlings spend so much time dealing with itches!

There were no Great Tit inspections today, which wasn't surprising.



15 February - With me working in the garden again, there was no sign of the Great Tits at their box today, although I heard the male's call quite often, and both birds visited the feeders while I was indoors.

The Starlings were alert by 6.40am, out of the boxes by 6.51am. and the female's first visit at 7.34am.  Activity in the boxes was limited again today (probably because of my presence outside) and I only saw the male in a box once (at 10.36am).

Starling sequence in box L this morning - 1


He had only just entered box L when he was followed in by his partner, entering with the same flurry as she did at the start of yesterday's sequence.

The male crouched as she did so, but she turned back towards the entrance and looked out . The male started to sing before his partner dashed across the box and jumped onto his back(?) in a repeat of yesterday.



Starling sequence in box L this morning - 2

The female only stayed there for a few moments before she headed for the entrance. She looked out briefly before there was a repeat of the sequence before she finally left, leaving the male still crouching in the corner.

He remained there for about a quarter of a minutes before he too left.

It's a curious sequence and I'm at a loss to explain what is happening here - any suggestions would be most welcome.


After that sequence, there were only a couple more visits to the boxes by the female before all fell quiet until the pair arrived to roost (female into box L, male into box R) at 4.55pm. The male had is head tucked under within four minutes, but the female didn't follow suit until 5.25pm.


16 February - An interesting morning in the Starling boxes, and the Great Tit box was inspected by the female .

Great Tit female inspects nest box



I'll start with the Great Tit - she appeared at 8.08am and was in the box for just over a minute. There was no sign of the male, although both birds were seen in the garden throughout the day and I could hear the male calling while I was working outside.




The Starlings were active by 6.35am, out of the box at 6.55am, and the female's first visit came at 7.23am. She went into both boxes numerous times, but when the male appeared in box L at 7.30am she was nowhere to be seen. He stayed in the box for about five minutes, alternating between tucking himself against the camera end as he called, and looking out of the entrance. With no sign of his partner he finally gave up and left.

He was in again a few minutes later, only staying a couple of minutes, and this time the female entered the box within seconds of him leaving.

At 7.50am the pair did meet up in box L for another one of those fascinating sequences.

Starling male displays during calls


First, the male entered and started calling. In this set of frames you can see how his neck feathers alternate from being flat against his body to standing on end as he calls.


Starling sequence in box L this morning - 1


Then the female entered with wings flapping, and in what is almost a predictable way, turned to look out before turning again quickly to head for her partner.

This time she didn't stop when she got to him, but just brushed her foot against his body as she turned back towards the entrance again. He continued to call but otherwise remained crouched and very still.


Starling sequence in box L this morning - 2Just as happened yesterday, the female then turned again, the other way this time and headed for her partner's head. As soon as she was over him he started to reverse, the female turning to follow, at it was at this point that I could see that she had one foot firmly on the back of his neck.

What happened next was so fast that it appeared as a blur, but she moved back across the box with the male appearing to be dragged by her.

Once he was at the far end of the box she stepped off him  and crossed the box once more.


Starling sequence in box L this morning - 3The male opened his beak in what may have been a defensive way as he remained crouched, and while doing so attempted to shuffle closer.

However, his partner's reaction was to raise herself high over him. and you can see in the final three frames how she raised the feathers on the crown of her head, no doubt making that appear larger from his point of view.

The male hung on for a short time before heading for the exit, leaving the female able to get on with her inspection of the box.


It wasn't all over even then, because the male attempted to re-enter the box but was greeted by a flurry of feathers and an open beak.

Ten minutes later, in box L  there was another interaction between the pair, almost identical to the one I recorded yesterday. This time when the male left he went straight into box R to resume his calling!

At 8.11am he was calling in box L yet again, but this time there was no female about and he left after just a minute. And he tried again at 8.22am, this time in box R but again with no response forthcoming.

Starling female brings straw and shuffles


For the next hour the pair got on with the business of dealing with the boxes. At 8.29am  the female brought a bit of straw into box L and organised it with a shuffle.

She also shuffled on each of the next few visits to box , but not during visits to box R.



Starling male brings feather(?) and shufflesThe male also brought bits in this morning. Although I didn't capture an image, the first looked as though they were bits of very thin bark, possibly of the type that covers our Himalayan Birch. They went into box R.

At 9.06am he brought into box L the biggest bit so far, although I can't decide if it's a piece of vegetation or a scraggly feather. After putting that dawn he had two 'mini-shuffles' before performing a full, enthusiastic one for the first time.

There were two more interactions between the pair this morning, which happened before the male brought in the feather(?). They both followed the simple pattern of - male in and singing - female enters and climbs over male - male leaves - female leaves. The first time it happened in box L and was repeated almost immediately in box R.

By 10am all visits had stopped.

The end of the day was a bit disrupted for the pair as we were having our log delivery at just the time they were wanting to head in to roost. In fact the pair were sitting on top of the box and the aluminium screen looking down on us as we completed the unloading. Nevertheless they were in their separate boxes by 5.30pm and with their heads tucked under soon afterwards.


17 February - The Great Tit female checked out her box again this morning at 9.24am.

After yesterday's events it was almost a relief to have a much quieter day in the Starlings' boxes. They were alert by 6.40am, out at 6.57am and the female's first visit was at 7.26am and she continued to visit up until around 11am.

The male brought some bits that looked almost black in the infra-red light, but most of those had been removed by 11am, but otherwise there were no shuffles, and no -in box' encounters during the morning.

The end of the afternoon was once again disrupted by my activities outside as I cleared the last of the logs that were delivered yesterday. At first the Starlings went into their separate boxes at 5pm, but over the next fifteen minutes they came and went, often watching me from the guttering.

Starlings roosting together tonight


When I finally retreated indoors it was the female who entered box L first at 5.21pm and she was followed closely by her partner. At first there was a period of squabbling which lasted the best part of ten minutes before they started to pay more attention to their own preening.

And as I write this at 8pm they are at opposite ends of the box and still preening frequently.



18 February - The female Great Tit was in her box again at 10.23am, although one of the pair had already looked in through the entrance briefly at 8.57am.

For the Starlings is was a rather quiet day again - perhaps the grey skies that covered the sky all day had an effect.

They were active by 6.30am and too busy preening to pay much attention to each other, and there was no aggression between them before they left at 6.58am.

The female made her first visit at 7.23am and there were occasional visits to both boxes over the next few hours. It wasn't until 10.30am that the two birds appeared together. Then it was little more than a 'change-over' in box R. Three minutes later the same thing happened in box L, then twice in box R by 10.35am. I saw the female just twice more before the visits stopped for the day.

She appeared again at 4.28pm when she visited both boxes several times. At 4.41pm there was a bird in both boxes briefly. They left again but were back for the night in at 5pm. The male had his head tucked under by 5.08pm but his partner carried on preening until 5.34pm.

So they are back in separate rooms again!


- Click on the images to see larger versions -

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