The 2009 Nestbox Diary

May (part 4)

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13 May - since hatching: 19-20 days Starlings; 18 days Great Tits

With fledging perhaps two days away for the Great Tits and anytime from tomorrow for the Starling, there has understandably been a lot of emphasis on wings in both boxes.

A Great Tit chick this afternoon


It's now not so easy to pick out particular overnight changes in the Great Tit chicks, although the overall impression is that the flight and tail feathers are longer.



The four Great Tit chicks this afternoon



The chicks still spend most of their time in the nest cup but individuals are now heading to the sides of the box more frequently.


Great Tit chick - view of back and tail



This rear view shows the tail more clearly. It is still short compared with that of an adult, but won't reach its full size until after fledging.




Great Tit chicks preening this afternoon


Preening is an essential task between parental visits, and even with just four chicks present, the nest cup can be a bit congested, especially if more than one chick decides to preen at the same time.


Great Tit chick showing breast plumage





This chick paused mid-preen to give us a nice view of its breast plumage.




Great Tit chick - wing stretching



However, when it come to dealing with the wings the chick needs to get up above its siblings.

As the chicks exercise their flight muscles there has been a great deal of wing stretching, either one at a time,


Great Tit chick - wing stretching (both wings)



or both simultaneously.



Great Tit chick - high speed wing flapping



Then, after all that preparation it is time to test those wings.



Great Tit chick - a first (near) flight test



In fact, a couple of times today a chick managed to generate just about enough lift to almost take off! It had started right next to the glass.



Great Tit parents deliver green caterpillars


Of course, this activity requires a great deal of energy, and although today has been overcast and sometimes damp the parents have maintained a good supply of food.

Green caterpillars appeared to be the main item on the menu, although at least once I think dad brought in some peanut bits - I haven't seen any whole nuts brought in so far.


Great Tit female delivers a green caterpillar



And with the chicks liable to wander now, a parent can be caught out on entering the box.


A Great Tit chick's acrobatics before producing a faecal sac



An a final picture form the Great Tit box - a chick does the acrobatics needed to present a faecal sac to the waiting parent (mum in this case).



The Starling chick stretches a wing at dawn


While the Great Tit female left their box at 4.52am, the Starling female didn't start her day until 5.40am, and having been underneath mum all night, her offspring couldn't wait to stretch its wings for the first time.




The Starling chick flaps its wings


As soon as its parent left the box the young Starling had a big stretch followed by a vigorous flapping session.

There were a few more during the rest of the day, but not as many as I had expected this close to fledging.


A wet Starling female sits on her chick this morning




It was drizzling outside and it wasn't long before mum was back in and sitting once again, complete with wet plumage.



Throughout the rest of the day she alternated bringing in food with more sessions in the nest, even though it was dry for most of the time.

Starling female sits on chick and then egg this afternoon

During one such session in the middle of the afternoon she started off sitting on the chick, but eventually it found itself to the side of the nest cup while its mum settled on the failed egg, making the 'tick-tock' movements that I normally associate with her just after an egg is laid and then throughout incubation.

I suspect that at that time she does this to ensure that the brood spot is clear of feathers, although I guess an expert might have other ideas.


cctv image showing a Starling visiting box L this evening


Is this a sign that she may already be preparing for a second brood?

Coincidentally, there is another Starling about which is taking an interest in the nest boxes. I saw it on the aluminium screen outside box L at lunchtime (the female was in box R at the time), and when the female was settling down for the night another bird entered box L briefly. The female left box R very quickly and the 'stranger' did likewise.


I had hoped to get a picture of the Starling chick today as it looked out quite often, but I'm afraid that it retreated from the entrance at the slightest sign of activity in the driveway. Perhaps tomorrow (if it is dry) I will set up my camera with a wireless remote and try again.

The Starling female this evening



I did manage this picture of mum just before she finally headed into the box for the night.



The Starling sitting on chick tonight



Finally, a comparison of the two boxes once all outside activity had ceased -

While the Starling female, as usual covered her chick almost completely,



Great Tit female with her chicks tonight



In the Great Tit box the mum has to take what opportunity she gets to rest as 'one of the gang'!




Still nothing to report from the Swift and House Martin boxes, apart from the Blue Tit that continues to roost in Martin nest 3. I am now playing the Swifts calls CD throughout the day, and will do until it's time for them to leave, unless I spot House Martins again, in which case I will play their CD instead!


14 May - since hatching: 20-21 days Starlings; 19 days Great Tits

The Great Tit chicks have fledged!

Well, as you'll read below I have well and truly been caught out today and missed the fledging - the Starling was supposed to leave first!

I'll start with the Starlings -

Mum spent just about all night sitting on the chick, although the pair were quite restless.

The Starling female removes broken egg

At 4.22am, after a lot of fidgeting, the mum suddenly delved into the nest and brought up the egg which was broken.

She dropped it back into the nest cup and settled down again. Twenty minutes later and she picked it up again and this time she flung it across the nest towards the entrance.

The pair were still in the nest cup until around 5.26am when the chick climbed out from under mum to stretch its wings. A minute later the adult left the box taking the shell with her,


Discarded infertile Starling egg



dropping it in our shared driveway. The appearance of the contents suggests that this egg was not fertilized.



The rest of the day was drastically different to yesterday, with the female not spending time in the box - perhaps her behaviour was linked to the presence of that egg.

The Starling chick looks out



As for the chick, apart from preening, wing stretching and flapping, it spent a lot of time at the entrance where it received a large proportion of its feeds.

I didn't get any useable pictures of that happening.


The Starling chick looks out exposing cleft upper palate and papillae



This view gives us a chance to see the chicks cleft upper palate and the rows of soft papillae.




The chick is still in the box this evening, and at 8pm it is still near the entrance, waiting for another feed.


And now the Great Tits -

The chicks' mum left the box at 4.49am after a very restless night, and they wasted no time getting into the routines of preening, stretching and flapping between feeds.

A spider is brought into the Great Tit box


Food today was quite varied, with caterpillars, and the odd spider, as seen here.

This shot illustrates one effect of having glass at the back of the box. The chicks seem to be reacting to the reflection rather than the real thing!


A sunflower kernel is offered to the Great Tit chicks


In the late morning both parents descended on the feeders and for a while the chicks were fed with sunflower kernels - the first time I've seen this happen during this nesting.

As it turned out, this is the last picture that shows all four chicks.



A Great Tit chick preens




This picture of a chick preening shows the good condition that the plumage is in now,


A Great Tit chick stretches its wings



and when the wings were stretched the flight feathers looked almost fully formed.


A Great Tit chick flaps its wings



They were certainly able to provide lift during wing flapping sessions,


A Great Tit chick flies!



and several times I saw a chick very clearly take off.

However, there weren't many of these episodes so I was confident that fledging wouldn't occur for at least another day.


Great Tit chicks rsest in the middle of the day



This feeling was reinforced when I saw the chicks sleeping just before 1pm.




In the afternoon I needed to do other things so I wasn't keeping tabs on the chicks. An in a demonstration of Sod's Law at work I accidentally switched off the hard drive recorder linked to the Great Tit box, and also, for some inexplicable reason, the time-lapse recorder that records the image that is seen on the webcam!

I have established that the first chick left the box at 1.23pm, just after a parent has been in, and that the remaining chicks were still there at 4pm (at the time I just thought that the fourth chick was hidden underneath them).

Great Tit chicks have fledged - just one failed egg left


When I next looked at the pictures from the box at 5.30pm it was empty!

What an annoying end to a fascinating, if sometimes frustrating few months. I can only hope that their fledging isn't a day too soon. I would have expected more flight testing before they finally took the plunge, and leaving so late in the afternoon cannot be the best of strategies.


Once I realised that the box was empty I headed down the garden to see if any were grounded. While I could hear both parents I could neither see nor hear any fledglings. There is heavy rain forecast for the early morning, although it has been largely wrong so far this week, so I'll keep my fingers crossed for them.


It might some a bit premature, but over the next few days I'm going to spend a bit of time down the box to look at how I can improve things next year.

Great Tit chicks have fledged - looking down onto one failed egg


The mirror I used this time has proved itself invaluable to get many of the photographs used in the diary. However, I want to rethink how it is mounted, and I may even try a larger one.

Fortuitously,  having the egg abandoned in the nest cup will provide a perfect target as I make those adjustments.


Photographs taken via the mirror need to be rotated and then flipped horizontally. The eagle-eyed amongst you might have noticed that occasionally I omitted to flip pictures before adding them to diary entries.

Female Great Tit roosts tonight

A postscript to a surprising day - tonight the female Great Tit adult is roosting in the nest box. She returned initially at 7.23pm, when she removed a faecal sac.

Five minutes later she was back in, pulling the sides of the nest cup in towards her before she tucked her head under her plumage to settle down for the night.

A look at the image from the Starling box suggests a similar situation, until the female moves and you catch a glimpse of her offspring. As I write this at 9.45pm she is actually preening while still on top of the chick.



15 May - since hatching: 21-22 days since the Starling eggs hatched

And at the end of the day the only surviving chick is still in the nest!

Starling female and chick at dawn


last night, both adult and chick were very restless with the youngster often getting out from under mum and heading for the other end of the box for short periods.

This behaviour continued until dawn, and these images were captured at just after 5am.


Starling female and chick at dawn



Mum left the box at 5.20am and  her offspring was soon into preening and wing stretching.



Starling chick flaps its wings



With fledging imminent I would have expected it to exercise its wings quite a bit today, but it only had a few flapping sessions all day.



The chick spent much of the day near or at the entrance, and most meals were taken from mum without her entering the box. For a moment, late in the morning, the chick climbed up into the entrance hole itself, but quickly retreated,

Starling female and chick at dusk


and as dusk fell it was asleep in the box when mum returned for the night at 8.24pm.

At first she passed the youngster to check the nest cup. And then the chick headed into the cup and mum promptly climbed on top of it and settled down - I wonder how long they will stay like this tonight!




It seems that all isn't quite finished in the Great Tit box. Having roosted in there last night, the female left at 5.20am.

Great Tit female delivers soft bedding



The box remained quiet all morning, but at just before 1pm she turned up again, with a beakful of soft bedding - just for roosting, or is there the possibility of a second brood?

We shall have to wait and see....

Great Tit female arrives for the night


There were no other visits before she returned to roost again at 8.24pm.

We haven't had birds roosting in the box after fledging in the past, so this is a new experience for us.




16 May - since hatching: 22-23 days since the Starling eggs hatched


The Starling chick has fledged.

After several restless hours before dawn, the adult left at just before 5.45am and her youngster left the box at 6.20am.



A bit of worrying news about the Starling fledgling this evening. During the afternoon my neighbour asked me to take a look at a bird on the ground in their garden. It was a fledgling Starling that was reluctant to move about and was out in the open. Their garden is a very neat one, but with no ground cover there was nowhere for the youngster to seek refuge, so I transferred it to our garden.

It appears to have a damaged wing. The right wing is drooping, although not drastically, so I hope it's not broken. It's not surprising that a fledgling should end up injured today. This morning especially it was very windy here at times. just before noon I had been up a ladder, cleaning the lenses on the Starling box cameras. I was safely on the ground again when one gust managed to move the top of the ladder a foot or so to one side. If it can do that to a ladder then I can understand how an inexperienced bird may be caught out by such winds.

Anyway, it is being fed by its parent and has plenty of cover to hide in so I shall leave well alone, and check on it again tomorrow.

See the next page for the continuation of today's entry.....

- Click on the images to see larger versions -

2009 Nestbox Diary Index...........Start of the Year..........  ..May (part 5)