The 2009 Nestbox Diary

May (part 3)

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10 May - since hatching: 16-17 days Starlings; 15 days Great Tits

We are now into the last week of this story of Great Tit and Starling nesting.

Great Tit chicks beg for food



Today, while the Great Tit parents continued their efforts to find food,

Great Tit parent waits for a faecal sac to emerge




and take away faecal sacs,



Great Tit chicks this evening



the chicks have been busy dealing with their growing plumage.


Great Tit chicks - a jumble of plumage



Preening now only reveals the occasional patch of bare skin.

In this somewhat confusing image, one chick preens in front of another one.


Great Tit chicks - wing stretching



Along with preening,  quite a lot of wing stretching went on today,



Great Tit chicks - high speed wing flapping - 1


and there were numerous wing flapping trials. During these their wings move so fast they appear as just a blur, and it is only the use of flash that 'freezes' the motion in these pictures.


Great Tit chicks - high speed wing flapping (front view)



In this picture, taken during one of those tests, you can see just how much the primary flight feathers have still to emerge from their sheaths.


Great Tit chicks tonight, without the mother present


Tonight the chicks are on their own, the female making her final visit of the day just after 8pm.

As 9.30pm approached the chicks were still preening, wing stretching and one just carried out quite a long flapping sequence.



I haven't had time to capture images from the Starling box today, but there are a couple of things to note from what I saw. The chick did carry out a couple of flapping exercises, although these are slow compared with the very rapid movement of the Great Tit wings.

While the Great Tit parents remove the faecal sac as it emerges from the chick's cloaca, in the case of the Starlings, the parent stands aside and waits for the chick to eject it at speed onto the side of the nest before picking it up and leaving the box.

There was activity in Box L again in the early morning.


This evening I set my camera up to attempt to photograph a Swift arriving at its nest site in my neighbours' roof space.

Starling and Swift tonightWhile I waited, there were several Starlings about on their roof. One was perched almost directly opposite the Starling nest box and spent the best part of ten minutes singing.

Having taken a photograph of it I repositioned the camera just as a Swift arrived, surprising me by not arriving from the direction I had expected.

As soon as it entered the roof, the Starling stopped singing and flew to the corner, disappeared into the roof, only to reappear very quickly and fly off.

Throughout this activity, 'our' female was safely inside the nest box with her chick, and she is remaining there tonight.


11 May - since hatching: 17-18 days Starlings; 16 days Great Tits

No pictures today - I had to do some essential maintenance work on the roof of our veranda and it took me much longer than expected, cleaning up under floodlights tonight.

I see that the female Great Tit is in the box tonight. I wonder why she chose to stay away last night.


12 May - since hatching: 18-19 days Starlings; 17 days Great Tits

With Great Tit chicks flying after around 20 days, the chicks are beginning the final stages of preparation for life outside, but are still very much tied to the nest cup, with just a couple of suggestions that they are ready to climb out of it - having said that, I've just watch one chick head for a corner of the box before carrying out a high speed flapping test away from its siblings.

The Starling chick  (which should fly after 21 days) is already heading towards the entrance quite frequently to greet its parent ( and of course the food she brings!). Conversely, while the Great Tit mum hardly stops in the box on her visits, I've seen the Starling female spend time sitting on her offspring several times today. She is doing just that as I write this at 6.20pm!

Great Tit chicks today



The Great Tit chicks' plumage is looking much nearer to 'completion' now, although, compared with that of the adults it is still dull and fluffy.


Great Tit chicks side by side today



Look carefully at several of the photographs that follow and you will still see the small tufts of down that have adorned the sides of their heads since hatching.


Great Tit adult awaits a feacal sac


You are even less likely now to see the bare areas of the birds' bodies, apart from the area just in front of the cloaca when the chick produces a faecal sac.


Great Tit adult delivers a large caterpillar


There is plenty of food to be found now, and the female rarely returns with nothing in her beak. Some of the caterpillars being brought in are a challenge even for these well developed chicks,


Great Tit adult delivers a green caterpillar



but all are welcome,


Great Tit adult delivers a dark coloured caterpillar


whatever they look like.


Great Tit adult avoids a chick's pointed beak as it feeds it



And with their beaks fast losing the gape, the parents really do need to take care!


Great Tit chick preens



The constant preening is certainly having an effect. I don't think I caught sight of any feather shafts today, although I'm sure that they are still present.


Great Tit chick uses its foot to deal with an itch



While the beak is turning into an excellent tool, for preening, it cannot of course be used to deal with head and neck plumage. For those it is also useful to have a decent set of claws!


Great Tit chick stretches a wing



There has been a lot of wing stretching today,


Great Tit chick tests its wings


and with a first flight just days away, quite a bit of wing testing.

In fact, one chick did its testing as late as 10pm!


The box has become quite a noisy place, with the chicks chattering for long periods, although the volume is still a lot less than that of the Starling chick.

Great Tit practices pecking


One bit of important behaviour that needs practice if the chicks are going to find their own food after fledging showed up today.

First, I saw a chick pecking at a mark on the side of the box, and then later when this chick spent several minutes pecking at a 'twig' at the back of the nest.


Tonight mum is present in the nest.

In the Starling box the chick is now just as likely to be wandering the box as waiting in the nest cup, and at just before 7.30pm I spotted it for the first time form our garden gate as it looked out.

I don't think it is as noisy now as it was a few days ago. Just like the Great Tits it's stretching its wings and flapping them occasionally.

The parent is  as usual sitting on her chick tonight.


House Sparrow female removes faecal sac from nest box


Finally, a picture of a female Sparrow taking away a faecal sac from one of the three Sparrow boxes that appear to be active at the moment.

She didn't have to enter the box either to feed a chick or collect the sac, and judging by the noise they are making this brood is the most well developed - perhaps we shall also see Sparrow fledglings in the next few days.



Early this afternoon I had a few moments of real optimism. I had gone outside to see if the Swifts were about, and instead there was a pair of House Martins flying around low, and directly over us. Needless to say, by the time I got my camera they had disappeared again. Still, it odes mean that there are 'local' Martins now, so I'll keep my fingers crossed. After all, we have had them arrive to nest in July/August.


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2009 Nestbox Diary Index...........Start of the Year..........  ..May (part 4)