The 2009 Nestbox Diary

March (part 3)

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21 March - The sun continues to shine, the Great Tit brings in the occasional beakful of moss, the Robin lifts its head to look out every so often, and the Starlings look as though they are at least thinking about getting on with their nest building this morning - in both boxes!

The Starling boxes at dawn this morning


Over night there were just a few bits in them in addition to the droppings from the overnight roost.


The male was alert by 5.50am and out at 5.56am, while his partner started moving about five minutes later and left at 5.57am.

Her first visit of the morning was at 6.20am, and for the next hour she was concerned with cleaning the two boxes. However, by 7.30am they had started bringing in lengths of straw and bits of green leaves.

This pair of images shows the boxes once the morning visits had finished, which was at 9.20am.

Before recording these images I got my ladder out and cleaned the lenses in the two boxes. The high level of mite activity leaves the lenses coated with a messy film that gradually softens the image.

I will probably need to do this at least once more before any eggs hatch.

At the end of the day the female first appeared at 5.26pm and again at 6.12pm before the pair arrived for the night at 6.20pm, going into their usual seperate boxes.


The Great Tit female made an early start when she entered their box at 6.47am. There were another three  'empty beak' visits before the first nesting materials were brought in at 7.31am. Over the next three hours she brought in a mixture of green moss and moss 'roots' during 23 of 25 visits.

The male did look in at 8.11am but he didn't enter the box until there was a change-over visits at 12.57pm. Finally, at 4.55pm he was at the entrance while his partner was inside shuffling and moving moss around.

The Great Tit nest tonight


This is their nest tonight. I've just realised that the previous couple of nest pictures need to be flipped left to right to correct the mirror image!




The Robin's incubation continues with no problems apart form another few moments with a bumblebee at the entrance at 5.33pm.

She left the box for the first time at 5.53am, and after that she spent a total of 595 minutes in the box during eleven sessions. That equated to an average of 54 minutes each, although the  time spent ranged from 30 minutes up to one lasting 1hr 54m.

The male visited ten times today, three of which happened while the female was away. On one of those occasions he entered the box briefly with a light coloured caterpillar in his beak.

The female entered to box for the last time at 5.32pm and was visited by the male at 5.39pm.



22 March - Under blue skies once again, while the Robin continues to gaze out from her box, the Great Tit seems to be working overtime this morning,

The Starling boxes at 10am this morning


and the Starlings - well, they seem to have finished for the day, but earlier confirmed that nest building has started for them too.

However, while having two boxes is convenient for a good night's roost, it does seem to cause confusion when it comes to nest building - which one to use?


This evening's images from the Starling boxes confirm that the straw brought in this morning is still in the boxes tonight, so it will be interesting to see what happens tomorrow morning.

I haven't had time to go through today's recordings. If I can I will try to catch up tomorrow.

The Great Tit nest tonight


In the meantime, here is the Great Tit nest tonight.

 It shows quite a bit of progress since yesterday, and reflects the amount of effort the female put into the task over a couple of hours this morning.




23 March - A bright but mainly cloudy morning, getting quite blustery and the temperature a couple of degrees down on yesterday's 14C.

Perhaps the change in the weather is the excuse for the Starlings having made little process this morning. In fact nothing new was brought in, and a few bits of straw were removed. They were active by 5.35am, out at 5.55am and the first visit was at 6.08am. By 6.23am the female was removing bits. As it turned out there were only a few visits before the last of the morning at 9.08am.

The Starlings roosting in box R tonight


Tonight they are roosting together in box R. They first appeared at 6.12pm when the two arrived in their respective boxes. However, two minutes later the male moved into box L. He stayed with the female for a rather uneasy few minutes before returning to box R at 6.20pm.

Then, just when I thought that they were settling for the night the female decided to join her partner in box R. This time there was only a little bit of squabbling and they seem to have settled down for the night relatively easily.


The Great Tits' day started with the female visiting at 6.55am. Between then and 9.08am she made twenty three visits, bringing in nesting materials on all but two. There was then a gap of an hour before she made the last three deliveries of moss today.

There was just one change-over visits today, at 7.14am, and a Great Tit (possibly the male) looked into the box at 1.08 and again at 1.17pm.

The Great Tit nest tonight


Here is the nest tonight.

With the rear of the nest built up now I have moved the cctv camera into the position that it will probably remain in for the rest of the nesting.

I must get the webcam operating in the next few days!



The Robins seem to be getting on with the job of incubation with no problems today. However, there was a problem on the human side - I inadvertently unplugged the power to the cctv camera for several hours so I don't have a recording to summarise today!


This afternoon I got on with making the loudspeaker housing for the Swift nest boxes.

Loudspeaker housing for the Swift nestboxesI want to use a CD of Swift calls in an effort to attract them to inspect the boxes. The trouble is that all the advice is to use high sound levels, and living in close proximity to others this could be a problem, so I'm trying out an arrangement which I hope will direct much of the sound upwards. I've designed it so that while the opening points upwards,  the speaker is at the back of the box, protected from rain.

I hope to get the loudspeaker put up and tested tomorrow.


Talking of rain, as I painted the housing this afternoon, we had some squally weather that included some very heavy rain for a short time.


24 March - A largely bright and sunny day, although  keen north-westerly breeze has kept the temperature down to a maximum of 10C, perhaps explaining a slow day on the nesting front.

The Starlings were both alert by 5.48am and out just three minutes later, with just a hint of a squabble in between. The morning visits started at 6.16am and a few minutes later the female started removing straw from both boxes once again! The morning session didn't last long, with her last inspection of both boxes at 8.32am, so there was still some straw left.

 The female reappeared at 6pm, spending time in both boxes over the next five minutes before she settled in box L. The male arrived in box R at 6.14pm - it looks as though they are nesting separately again tonight.

The Great Tits started today with a change over visit at 6.58am. Between that and 8.10am she went on to deliver sixteen tufts of moss.  Then all went quiet until a second change-over visit took place at 9.23am, the last time the male would visit today.

At 10.13am the female appeared with moss once more, making a further four deliveries in the next five minutes before she too finished her day's work in the box.

The Great Tit pair during a change-over visit


The nest is certainly looking deeper, deep enough for the male to disappear for a few moments when the female arrived during the change-over visit.

The Great Tit nest tonight



And tonight, at first glance it seems that the floor is now completely covered, although on closer inspection the reddish colour of the timber still shows through.



As far as the Robin is concerned, it's business as usual in her box. Looking at the cctv image, I'm not sure if it's the camera or the Ivy tree that is swaying most in the breeze. Fortunately the movement isn't too large as the field of view through the telephoto lens is only around 10cm or so across!


Loudspeaker housing installed at the side of the Swift boxes


Following on from yesterday's woodwork the Swift loudspeaker is now in place next to the nest boxes, with the audio cable going into the small bedroom in that corner of the house.

It's been tried out and is now ready for use as soon as the first Swifts appear overhead in late April.




25 March - A bright but very blustery day with wind gusts of up to around 40mph, but it didn't have much of an effect on the birds we are following.

I have set up the webcam today. I'm afraid that I have yet to catch up with the video streaming that is now on use on some webcams. The image on my webcam is uploaded every four seconds, and includes The Starlings (24hr coverage), Great Tits and the Robin (these during daylight hours only).

The Starlings were alert by 5am that morning although they didn't leave until 5.50am. The female made her first visit at 6.10am and by 6.20am she was removing straw again.

The male appeared several times during the morning session, and the pair met up a couple of times although the encounters both ended with a brief squabble. The last visit of the morning session appeared to come at around 9.45am but later on the female went into both boxes at 11.17am.

This afternoon saw something different. Starting at 3.47pm the male appeared numerous times in both boxes, sometimes bringing in small pieces of plant materials, including bits of foliage from the conifers beyond the end of the garden, and performing the occasional very limited shuffles.

Unfortunately a bit of carelessness on my part meant that I stopped recording the quad image at around 4.25pm so I don't know if the male's visits continued. Anyway, I do know that at 6.25pm both birds ended up together in box R. There was an uneasy few minutes before he left the box. However, he soon returned and at 6.27pm the female headed into box L. The pair then settled down for the night.

One of the Great Tits ( the male, I think) appeared at their box entrance at 6.43am. Two minutes later there was the only change-over visit that took place today. After that, the female made thirty two visits to the box before she stopped for the day at 11.13am.

While she brought in green moss on the majority of visits, she also delivered  several woody 'roots' and light coloured fine material. During visits she often spent quite a time working on the sides of the nest. It looked as though she was working the moss into the scaffold of moss 'roots'.

I haven't attempted to record the Robin's comings and goings today, but all seems to be well, despite the strong winds causing the Ivy tree to sway (noticeable on the webcam image as the entrance seems to jump from side to side).


26 March - A day with more grey skies than bright periods, less breezy but with showers throughout the day that seemed to slow things down in the Great Tit and Starling boxes.

The Starlings had a staggered start, with the female active by 5am but her partner not starting to move about for another twenty minutes. However, it was 6.07am before they left the boxes, probably down to the early morning cloud cover keeping light levels down. The first visit of the day came at 6.23am when the female returned to box L.

There were relatively few visits this morning, with nothing new brought in, but significantly, nothing taken out. At 10.05am the male entered box R and started calling. His partner appeared in box L briefly before she joined him. There was a flurry of wings as the pair crossed over and he left, followed by the female.

It was another hour before another visit took place. The male made two visits, at just before noon, and the female did the same before 1pm.

At the end of the day the female appeared in box R at 6.14pm before the pair arrived together in box R at 6.25pm. There was a bit of squabbling but the pair seemed to settle down quickly.  Although at 7.15pm they were still next to each other, it didn't last and by 10pm the female has moved nearer the exit!

The Great Tits have also had a quiet day. One of them appeared outside the entrance at 6.41am and stayed there for several minutes. A change-over visit took place at 7am with a second one at 7.40am before the first bit of moss was brought in at 7.46am. Just four more tufts of moss were brought in before 9am and at 9.08am she brought in a tuft of fine, light coloured plant material.

At 9.15am the male appeared outside the box, spending several minutes there, calling quite loudly. Then at 9.50am he entered the box, staying for nearly three minutes. Just after 10am the female reappeared with some moss. 11.16am saw the male outside again, and then around noon the female visited three times, bringing in more of the light coloured fine material. It looks as though she is now moving into the next phase of nest building.

The Great Tit nest tonight


Looking at the nest tonight the progress is obvious.


The Great Tit nest tonight - close-up 1



Looking at it via the mirror, it is difficult to see any of the wooden floor of the box


The Great Tit nest tonight - close-up 2


unless you look very closely!

I was hoping to see the fine tufts that were brought in today, but they must have been buried in the moss. However, the female seems to have brought in at  least a couple of lengths of hair.


The female Robin's day followed the pattern that would be expected as she continues to incubate her eggs. Between the time that she first left the box at 6.27am to the time she returned for the night at 6.18pm, she left the box ten times, each trip out lasting an average of just over 8 minutes. Putting it round the other way, she spent a total of 6hr 25 minutes sitting on the eggs in sessions lasting from as little as twenty minutes up to a long stay of 2hr 9min during the afternoon.

Robin male feeds partner with winter gnat



I recorded the male bring food to her thirteen times while she was in the box, and just once when she was absent!

More often than not, it's impossible to see, or make out what food has been brought, but on this occasion the female was more obliging after her partner left.

It looks very much like a winter gnat (genus Trichoceridae).


I'm a bit frustrated by a problem I'm having trying to balance the output from the Robin camera with the other images presently on the webcam. Tomorrow I plan to change the camera being used to see if I can get an improvement in that balance.


27 March - Another cool day with the temperature held below 11C by what is now a westerly breeze. There have been just a couple of light showers, particularly when I chose to sort out the Robin camera!

The replacement camera gives a far better image in this situation, although with the lens aperture set manually the quality of the image will continue to be at the mercy of the varying light levels. Hopefully I've managed an acceptable compromise on that. There was a slight hiccup with the webcam itself this morning when the laptop running it went on strike. Hopefully that is a problem that will not happen too often. In the way of a bit of variation, from time to time I will be switching the Great Tit webcam between the side and top views.

At the end of the afternoon I switched on a low intensity infra-red light to illuminate the Robin box as the new camera is sensitive to IR light. It means that there will be a low quality image from that camera right through the night from now on.

Tonight, I spent some time down the Great Tit box. Now that the nest is getting close to completion I was able to finalise the camera position. In addition I re-positioned the low level tungsten lighting to improve slightly the overnight image from the nest box.

Having spent time doing these jobs, I'm afraid that I haven't had time to put together a summary of the day's events other than a few details -

The Great Tit day started with the first delivery of moss at 6.57am, and the female was quite busy until after 10.15am. Then there was a gap before she made more deliveries around noon, and again 1.30-2pm

Great Tit female searches for suitable moss



This set of pictures was taken at around 1.45pm as the female arrived at the eastern end of the big pond and chose a spot to gather some moss.

She even made a couple of deliveries after 5pm today, and I half wondered if she would end up staying in the box, although the nest is nowhere near ready for egg laying yet.


Great Tit nest tonight


Here is the nest tonight, complete with hair, some of which looks as though it could be human hair??

There is no sign of wood at the bottom of the nest cup now.




The Starlings are still waiting for some signal to get started. When the recording started at 5am the pair were side by side and there was no sign of aggression between them once they woke up at approaching 5.30am, and they were out of box R by 5.34am.

I saw nothing out of the ordinary occur before the last morning visit at around 9.30am. The female reappeared at 6pm and both birds entered box R at 6.18pm. However, they didn't stay together tonight. While there was very little squabbling, the female decided to head back into box L at 6.26pm.

With the camera disconnected for a while during the morning I'm not going to be summarising her day today. However, it was clear that my activity seemed to have little or no effect on her at all, which I was pleased about. In fact, she returned to the box, and was fed by her partner while I was still making adjustments which required me to talk to Sheila via an intercom.

The IR light will make it possible to watch activity at the box much better than previously. For example, tonight she didn't retire for the night until 7.01pm, and five minutes before, the male had brought food to an empty box.


28 March - Still no sign of the Starlings getting going, but this morning the female Great Tit has found a good source of hair and wool.

The day was another mixture of bright moments between glum periods and squally showers, a couple quite heavy and a high that didn't reach 10C, but that didn't seem to worry the Great Tit female, and  at least a couple of deliveries were made during showers.

The Great Tit female brings in hair


The delivery of hair and wool into the Great Tit box started at 6.47am. Between then and 11am there were twenty one more deliveries.




This was the nest at 10am, and more 'soft stuff' was added in three more visits,


Great Tit nest this evening



and after those final visits (picture taken tonight).




In sharp contrast, the Starlings show no interest in nesting. They were alert after 5.30am and out at 5.50am. The first morning visit came at 6.09am, but although both birds visited the boxes between then and 9.20am I didn't see any interactions between them.

The female paid box L a brief visits at just after noon, but it was 5.46pm when she appeared next, going into both boxes. She did this again at 6.09pm but then stayed in box L. The male arrived in box R two minutes later and it looked as though they may settled down. To my surprise, at 6.40pm he headed into box L. The visit was only a brief one, and within a minute he was back in box R.

The female Robin received 'breakfast in box' at 6.09am and again at 6.15 and 6.36am before she left the nest for the first time at 6.56am.

The Robin female leaves her nest at 2.08pm (cctv image)


After that she left the box another ten times during the day, and was away from the box for a total of 89 minutes, an average of just over eight minutes a trip, very close to the figures that I recorded two days ago.



Quad cctv image showing Robin male visiting his partner at 6.54pm


While sitting on the eggs she was fed by her partner twenty four times during the day.

These feed continued after the Starlings had retired for the night, the last being at 6.54pm, after which the female left for her last excursion of the day. She was back in the box at 7.02pm.


29 March - The first day of British Summer Time - for the rest of the nesting season timings will be an hour later (as far as the birds are concerned!) than in previous entries.

A bright, sunny morning with a glimmer of hope in the Starling boxes - the female brought a thin twig into box L soon after 9.30am, and it looks as though a local dog has been given a haircut, judging by what the female Great Tit has been taking into her box this morning.

On a technical note, I apologise to anyone who found the webcam image scrambled this morning. It's back in action now, but there is a faulty video cable that I will need to replace later today.


The Great Tit female brought only hair and similar soft materials into the box today although there were fewer deliveries today. She started at 7.31am and made nine visits before 10am. After that she made five more visits, well spaced out with the last taking place at 3.32pm.

The male made five appearances at the entrance during the day, the last being at 5.49pm. He entered the box just once, at 8.35am but the female didn't appear at this time.

The Great Tit nest tonight



And tonight's Great Tit nest picture.




The Starlings were alert by 6.20am and the male left at 6.43am, followed two minutes later by his partner. Her first visit came at 7.09am and at 7.28am there was a change-over visit in box L, the only time the pair were together in a box all day.

The female was particularly active over a twenty minute period around 7.30am, with most visits concerned with clearing box R.

The Starling female brings nesting bits into both boxes this morningAt 7.39am I spotted the female bringing a couple lengths of straw into box L, and a few more followed over the next couple of hours.

At 9.10am she also took what looked like a piece of moss into box R, but this didn't stay long as she continued to clear the floor in there.

The Starling boxes at 6.20am and 10.30am


The morning visits had finished by 10.15am and these cctv images show before and after images of the two boxes, the top pair recorded just after the birds left at 6.20am, and the lower pair at 10.20am.

It's not a huge step forwards, but it may be a start!


The male visited both boxes in the middle of the afternoon, and the female visited box R before she entered box L for the night at 7.16pm. The male arrived in box R at 7.23pm. He popped out for a couple of minutes just after 7.30pm before settling down for the night.


The Robin continues to be pretty consistent in her incubation habits. She first left the box at 6.28am and settled back in for the night at 8pm. In between she went out twelve times, for a total of around 85 minutes - an average of just over 7 minutes per trip. She sat on the eggs for a total of 727 minutes in eleven sessions averaging some 66 minutes each.

Male Robin with winter gnat outside nest box (cctv image)


The male brought food to the box some 21 times.

This cctv image shows him at the box with what I think is a winter gnat at 5.15pm.





30 March - A bright, cloudless start, but with an iced over bird bath as a reminder that winter can still touch us.

While the Great Tit has obviously been adding a layer of white 'soft stuff', whether the Starlings have made any progress is debateable as  look at the cctv images at 9.30am. However, it does now look as though box L is the box being favoured for nesting.



31 March - Yesterday's entry wasn't completed because I'm afraid that I 'ran out of steam'. As it happened it was, as far as I can tell, a day without any important developments in and around the boxes!

This morning so far there is nothing really different to report on. Outside at just before 9am it is overcast and 7C, so no repeat of yesterday's cold start.  The Great Tit has just brought in another beakful of what looked like animal hair, and the female Starling has just visited both boxes. In fact, as I write this she has brought a length of straw into box R. However, it still looks as though box L is the favoured site for her nest as it still has some straw that isn't being removed, and she has just been in there and shuffled.

Just to confuse matters, just after 9.30am the female removed a length of straw from box L and took it into box R...

A few more bits were removed, moved between boxes or added to one or the other during the morning visits, but at the end of the session little had changed. Tonight, the female first appeared a couple of times before 5pm and then there was a long gap before she appeared in box R briefly at 7.12pm.

The CCTV images tonight tonightAt 7.25pm she once again entered box R, but this time she stayed, even when the male arrived five minutes later.

So far (up to 9pm, at least) I have seen hardly a squabble between them so it could be a peaceful night, apart form having to deal with the constant itching brought on by the mites and fleas!

Look carefully at the image from the Robin camera and you can just make out the female's tail sticking up at the back of the box.

As you can see from these images, there is perhaps rather less nesting material in them compared with two days ago, despite the increased activity this morning.

I haven't had time to put together figures for the Robins today, but the female's day started at 5.28am when she spent over two minutes perched outside, although she didn't actually leave the box for the first time until 6.29am. At the end of the day her final trip out started at 7.46pm and she returned for the night at 8pm.


The Great Tit female had a comparatively quiet day. Her first delivery of 'soft stuff' came at 7.21am and there were just thirteen visits, the last being at 11.26am. The male came to the box four times, although he entered just once, the visit lasting just a couple of seconds. Every day there is a visit to the box entrance right at the end of the afternoon by one of the pair, and today was no exception. I don't always see enough to distinguish which of the pair it is, but the sounds leave no doubt that it is the male as he calls before leaving.

The Great Tit nest tonight



Here is the nest tonight, with most of the nest now lined with hair and wool over.


- Click on the images to see larger versions -

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