The 2009 Nestbox Diary

January to March (part 6 - February)

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19 February - Apart from a short brighter spell mid-morning it has been a dull day with light rain most of the afternoon, and these conditions were reflected in what I think may have been the quietest day since I started these nestbox diaries.

First of all, the Great Tits stayed away from their box today.

The male Starling was looking out into the darkness by 6.25am, his partner was active by 6.40am, and the pair left their separate boxes at 6.48am. The female made her first visit at 7.37am and after a flurry of visits to both boxes in the first half hour, she appeared only a few times. After she went into box L at 9.23am her next, and last appearance was in box R at 10.40am. The male didn't make any visits at all this morning.

At the end of the afternoon there were no preliminary visits by either bird, and they entered the boxes at 5.16pm to roost separately as usual. The male had his head tucked under within two minutes while the female continued preening for another twenty four minutes.


20 February - There was a Great Tit visit today, but it was rather different to what has become the usual.

Great Tit male inspects the nestbox at 4.58pm


It was the male who turned up at just before 5pm, spent a minute outside and then entered the box.

He looked back towards the entrance several times but the female didn't appear this time.



For the Starlings it was another quiet day except for a moment shortly before roosting. They were alert by 6.30am and out of the box at 6.49am. The female made her first visit at 7.22am and was quite busy over the next fifteen minutes.

At 7.42am the male entered box R, started calling and was quickly joined by his partner. What followed was a basic change-over routine. The female turned as if to look out again but then spun round and dashed across the box, climbing over the male who headed for the exit. The female left a couple of seconds later.

That was the last time the pair appeared together today, and all morning visits had ceased by 9.30am.

Quad image at just before 5pm

It was 4.50pm when the female appeared next, going into both boxes several times.

Then, while the Great Tit male was carrying out his inspection the Starling pair arrived in their boxes. However, they were accompanied by a third individual which didn't venture further than the entrance when the female made threatening gestures towards it with her beak!


Immediately afterwards both birds left again and didn't return until 5.15pm when they arrived for the night. The male tucked his head under his plumage within five minutes but his partner was still preening when I stopped the recording at just before 6pm.



21 February - A bird appeared outside the Great Tit box at 9.40am, but it didn't look in and the bright back-lighting made it impossible to tell what it was. However, at just after noon the female Great Tit did spend just over a minute in the box. Again, her visits was not much more than a look around, with no inclination to shuffle up to now.

The Starlings' day had started with the male active by 6.35am but his partner not moving about until 6.46am. As usual they left more or less together (from their separate boxes) at 6.50am.

The female made her first visit at 7.15am, and the male appeared in box L at 8.36am, at the same time that the female entered box R. The male was back in box L at 8.51am and a couple of minutes later he took a few bits into box R. At 9.03am these were removed from the box by the female, and the last morning visit took place at 9.34am.

The Starlings prepare to roost - 1


Preparation for roosting took a different path this evening.

The male arrived first, in box R at 5.22pm, the female entering box L four minutes later. Then at 5.30pm when it looked as though both birds were going to leave, the male joined his partner in box L.


The Starlings prepare to roost - 2


For the next couple of minutes the pair were in an uneasy stand-off before the male left again.

However, to my surprise the female then followed him out and the pair went into box R. What followed was a prolonged period of squabbling as darkness fell outside, and at 9pm the pair are still restless, and at opposite ends of the box with the female nearest the exit.




22 February - A brief entry today -

The Great Tit female visited their box at 9.52am, staying for three minutes. No sign of the male at the box again today.

The Starlings had a reasonably quiet night although there was a period of squabbling around 3am. They were alert by 6.25am and out at 6.59am on a cloudy morning. As soon as she left, the female went straight into box L for a minute or two.

I didn't see the male visit at all today and the female didn't visit a lot this morning. After 9.30am she only made two more visits during the morning, at 10.12 and 11.11am.

At the end of the afternoon she reappeared briefly at 4.47pm before she arrived in box L to roost at 5.10pm. The male arrived twelve minutes later and went straight into box R, so they are back in their separate sleeping quarters again tonight.



23 February - The Great Tits were both involved in an inspection today, and it followed the 'standard' pattern  -

The male entering first and starting to look around;

at the sound of the female arriving outside he crouches down and moves to the back of the box as she enters.


Great Tit visit to nestbox -2



As she lands he gets even lower and opens his beak.

His partner appears to almost ignore him as she looks around, and he takes his opportunity to depart, leaving his partner to make her own inspection before leaving a short time later.



The Starlings really are going through a quiet spell at the moment, with no 'in-box' encounters again today.

They were alert early, by 6.20am and left the boxes at 6.46am. The first visit by the female was at 7.20am and she made quite a few visits to both boxes over the next fifteen minutes before the frequency of visits slowed.

At 8.50am the male made his only appearance, going into box L and calling briefly. However when the female turned up she went into box R and both birds left. All morning visits ceased by 9.30am.

There was an isolated visit to both boxes at 2.44pm by the female, and she next appeared briefly at 5.03pm and again at 5.11pm. At 5.23pm the two birds entered their usual boxes. While the female was now in for the night, the male left again for a few minutes before he returned to box R for the night at 5.37pm.


24 February - Another quiet day, with the Great Tits staying away from their box and the Starlings making few visits.

They were alert by 6.33am and out at 6.55am. The female's first visit took place at 7.22am and her morning session ended by 9.40am, with no sightings of her partner in the boxes.

The female next appeared at 5pm when she arrived for the night. The male joined her a few minutes later but was encouraged to leave again by her pecking at his rear end as he looked out.

After visiting box R briefly at 5.20pm he finally entered it for the night  at 5.37pm.

As I've described in the garden diary, the Robins appear to be preparing to nest in the Ivy tree. Obviously there will be no pictures form inside the nest, but I hope to be able to follow their progress over the weeks to come. From tomorrow on I'll be including updates in this diary rather than the garden diary.


25 February - The Starlings were alert by 6.30am and out just a few seconds before 7am. The female's first visit was at 7.22am and her last of the morning was at 9.42am. She appeared next at 4.54pm and again at 5.13pm when she visited both boxes. The pair of birds entered the two boxes to roost at 5.33pm.

The Great Tits visited again with the female in the box twice. She entered at 9.14am for a short visit. Two minutes later there was the usual sequence as described in the entry for the 23rd.

The Robin was first seen going into that box at 7.10am, and there were periods of activity there right through the day, the last visit seen taking place at 4.47pm.



26 February - A lack of time over the last two days has given me little time to follow progress in the boxes, but I've managed to catch up tonight.

I'll start with the Starlings because they have had another extremely quiet day. They were active by 6.35am, out at 6.46am and the female's first visit took place at 7.19am. As usual she appeared quite a few times in the next half hour or so but then things went quiet rather quickly. Her last visit of the morning came at 8.49am, although the male did pop into both boxes briefly at 10.42am.

At the end of the afternoon the female appeared in both boxes for a quick visit at 4.26pm. At 5.21pm both birds arrived in box L. There was no aggression between the pair, but within a minute the male had headed into box R for the night. He had his head tucked under by 5.36pm. His partner tucked her head away twenty minutes later.

The female Great Tit visited their box at 10.42am, staying for just a minute, with no sign of the male being nearby.

The CCTV camera was picking up an image of the Robin box by 7am, but I didn't see a visit take place until 7.32am. After that she seemed to be back and forth to the box all day.

Usually, a visit involves a high speed approach, with the bird going in quickly so that I cannot see if she is carrying anything. Then, as she leaves she usually pauses briefly  before flying off, often directly towards the camera as she heads for a branch of the Birch tree which lies between the camera and the box.

This afternoon there were a few exceptions to that usual pattern.

The Robin spreads it wing outside the nestbox


First, at 2.22pm, after going into the box she perched, appeared to be going back in again, and then turned again and spread a wing low to one side.

Instead of flying off quickly she held this pose, just turning her head to look around from time to time, for the best part of three minutes before she left - curious!

The Robin with Birch bark outside the nestbox


At 4.10pm there was a blurred flash of white as she flew towards the box and disappeared inside. Fortunately, this time she came back out with the bit still in her beak and stopped for a few moments before heading back in.

I can't be 100% certain but it looks very much like a bit of the paper-thin bark that our Birch tree produces


The Robin with skeletonized leaf outside the nestbox

Ten minutes later, and as she emerged after another visit, instead of flying off she dipped her beak down behind the Ivy stems to collect what looks like a skeletonized leaf. There are lots of those in the debris trapped amongst the tangle of Ivy branches. It was taken into the box.

The last visit seen was at 4.33pm (the camera image was still visible until around 5.40pm).



27 February - On a bright, sunny morning the Starlings were ready at the exits of the two boxes and to leave when recording started at 6.30am and were gone by 6.35am. The female's first visit was at 7.09am, and the only time the male appeared was at 8.04am when he was in box R briefly while his partner was in box L. The female made her last visit of the morning at 9.17am.

At the end of the afternoon she reappeared at 5.15pm, going into both boxes a couple of times before she finally entered box L for the night at 5.19pm. The male arrived in box R at 5.23pm, although he went out again for a short time before returning to roost at 5.35pm.

There was just one visit by the Great Tit female today, at 9.48am, with no sign of the male at the box.

The Robin was first seen arriving at her box at 7.05am, although she didn't appearing again until nearly 8.40am. From then on she was very active for the rest of the day, especially between 9-10am. Her last visit was seen at 4.16pm.


28 February - The month ends on an upbeat note with activity to report on for all three species.

The Great Tit day started at 8.02am when the female visited for just half a minute, and when she left the male spent nearly a minute outside the entrance, peeping in from time to time.

Great Tits visit nestbox


The female alone was back again for another visits just over an hour later, and then at 12.48pm the pair arrived, male first, to act out the familiar 'change-over' sequence (see 23 February).

This has been the most active day yet in that nest box.



At the Robin box I didn't see any activity until 7.42am, but yet again from then on there were visits all day until the last one was recorded at a very early 3.25pm (I was able to see an image of the box until the light failed around 5.50pm). Could it be that her nest building is almost over?

Female Robin prepares to deliver materials to the nestbox



During the late morning I spent an hour or so behind a temporary hide down the West Wing to watch what she was taking into the nest.

Most of the time it was assorted bits of fine plant material,


Female Robin prepares to deliver moss to the nestbox



but just occasionally she would arrive with moss. This was the largest amount I saw her bring at a single visit during my time in the hide today.





The Starlings were both looking out by 6.30am and had left the boxes by 6.39am. The female made her first visits to the boxes at 7.40am.

At 9.25am the male appeared in box L and for the first time in days started singing. A bird, I guess the female, was outside the entrance but she didn't go in and he soon left too. He was back in and trying again at 9.31am  but again failed to attract the female. She was still about, and at 9.40am she made what was to be the last visit of the morning.

It's interesting that although neither bird visited again before the end of the afternoon, while I was taking the Robin pictures I could often see both Starlings on my neighbour's roof opposite the boxes and I could hear the male singing both there and at the top of the Hawthorn at other times.

At the end of the afternoon there was a some what confused end to their day. First, the female made her customary brief visits to both boxes at 5.22pm. These were followed by the male entering box R at 5.25pm but then heading into box L at 5.30pm.

Starling sequence before roosting - 1


As he looked out, the female barged past him into the box. He appeared to be the aggressive one and although things happened very quickly I'm not sure if there was an attempt at mating during the flurry of wings.

Anyway, he backed off quickly and left the box,


Starling sequence before roosting - 2


heading into box R.

As he looked out the female came from box L and joined him again. This time there was just a brief confrontation before they stopped the squabbling and started to settle down,




Starlings roosting in box R tonight

so that tonight they are together again!

I should point out that the positions of their beaks is nothing to do with affection - should one partner move suddenly (eg to deal with an itch) the other partner doesn't have far to stab with its beak in the darkness!

The male, with his very slightly darker plumage is on the left (see also that his chest feathers are slightly spiky!)



- Click on the images to see larger versions -

2009 Nestbox Diary Index......Start of the Year.... ..Next chapter (March)