The 2010 Nestbox Diary
January to March
16 March - On a day when the weather turned out to be the best yet this month, the Sparrows decided to stay in the box much later this morning, not leaving until around 8am, after which there followed a couple of hours of activity involving both birds.
This picture, recorded during one of those visits shows clearly differences between the pair as seen by the infrared sensitive camera. The light eye band of the female stands out in stark contrast to the black band of the male.
Curiously, the pair seemed to spend ages going round in circles in the box, with little in the way of aggression and quite a lot of quiet twittering.
For the first time I saw both birds bring in materials, including some moss, and in this case a bit of straw.
Later in the morning the male once again spent time clearing the circular area ready for his partner. That task even included a bit of shuffling today.
The images above illustrate a problem with the LED arrangement that I set up yesterday. The 'hot spot' in the top left corner was caused by the bright light (infra red) of one of the LEDs reflecting off a white plastic panel on the box front. The presence of this light caused problems for the camera's automatic exposure system so that the rest of the picture appeared darker. It meant another trip up the ladder this afternoon. The same LED now points up at the roof instead, and the difference will be seen in night-time images from now on.
As usual, the male took up his high position on the straw, and when he got too close the inevitable response from the female was just too fast for the camera to capture more than a blur!
Once the male had returned to his position by the entrance the female settled down, tucking her head under a wing in the corner.
I'm beginning to think that it may be worth setting up the webcam over the next few days.
During the later afternoon I got around to doing a bit more towards the construction of the neighbours' Swift boxes. With a bit of luck I will have the construction of the first one completed tomorrow. It would be nice to get these put us as soon as possible. While they are intended for Swifts, it would do no harm if some of the local Sparrows took a look at them too!
18 March - It has been business as usual with the Sparrows these last two days, with lots of activity during the first part of the morning and then the box remaining quiet through much of the afternoon. Today, the bright morning gave way to grey skies and that seemed to encourage the pair to retire early - they were back in the box soon after 3.30pm.
I spent much of the day assembling the Swift boxes. By the time I cleared up some time after 5pm the air was damp. All four of the double boxes are now assembled. The next job will be to smooth corners and prepare them for painting or treating (need to check with the neighbours first) before I add the roof coverings.
I heard and saw a great deal of the Great Tits today, but there is still no sign of them visiting the nestbox. It did have a couple of visitors during the day - two bumblebee queens checked it out.
Talking of checking out, l I was looking through the day's recording of the composite cctv images tonight, and the first activity of the day shouldn't have surprised me.
The puffed out throat feathers indicate that it is a male, and if the microphone had been connected I may well have been posting a short clip of early morning song.
I guess that I can expect to see more of this individual.
21 March - Just a few things to report from the nestboxes today.
First, a Great Tit looked into the Tit box at 7.45am - I need to clear some webs away again, hopefully tomorrow night. So far, there hasn't been a return visit by the Starling.
Tonight the pair are resting in their usual places, with the male hidden in the background, behind what is left of the Swifts' nest.
I made progress with the new Swift boxes today. While there are still some other bits to sort out before I put them up, today I took advantage of the good weather to get them painted.
I hope to get them fitted by the end of this month.
Our local free newspaper is running an article about how Surrey (a county just a few hundred yards from us!) is publicizing a nationwide appeal by the RSPB to develop a detailed inventory of Swift nesting locations, and to encourage people to provide more nesting places for them. Let's hope that these boxes will do just that...
22 March - A largely grey morning which became greyer in the afternoon with rain by teatime.
There was another couple of inspections by a Starling this morning, at 7.32am and 9.25am, both to the right hand box. This posed me with a dilemma which required a quick decision. If the Starlings were to start nesting in the boxes there could well be serious problems when the Swifts return. While I do not want to deprive the Starlings of a nesting opportunity, I'm anxious to be able to record what will happen if the Swift pairs return.
My solution was to block the nestbox entrances!
It looks rather drastic, but weather permitting, I will be putting up one of the new boxes tomorrow in what will be an almost identical position in an adjacent driveway. The Starling will be able to move in there without the prospect of territorial disputes reoccurring in our driveway.
The strings seen in the picture will allow me to pull out the plugs as soon as the Swifts appear overhead in May.
The Sparrow pair followed their usual daily pattern, leaving for the first time just before 7am and then make numerous visits during the morning. Things became a bit quieter during the early afternoon, but as rain started falling the male was back in the box at 3.35pm. He spent the next twenty five minutes alternating between being in the clear circle below the camera and peering out of the entrance and chirping. He left at 4pm, and it wasn't until 4.15pm that the female arrived.
She too moved between the circle and the entrance (no chirping in her case) and when the male returned at 4.20pm they engaged in interesting encounter. As he had done in the past, the male approached the female from a high(er) position on the straw. When he came too close she rushed at him. As she did so he 'sneaked' around her to get to the circle, only to retreat to the other end of the box when the female charged him again.
However, even though the male remained right against the opposite end of the box, if he moved at all the female was likely to rush to just short of the entrance with her head down and tail up. The male just froze, and the female gradually relaxed, her tail dropping low, and then finally returning to the circle.
This was repeated four times before the male finally kept still and the pair settled.
It's curious how the male creates the clear circle only to have the female take charge of it in such an aggressive way. And it's interesting to compare how they go on to spent the night at opposite ends of the box, with the Swift pairs (and to a lesser extent, the Starlings) who spend the night in close, side by side company.
23 March - Progress is being made towards the nesting season. I read that Sand Martins and Swallows are already in the UK - still too long to wait before the Swifts and House Martins arrive!
Two of the nestboxes that I've made are now up and ready for visitors.
The first is in the next driveway down from us, at the western corner of the north side of the house. I can see it from my garden.
In the pages to come I will refer to these boxes at Nest box 1L and 1R (NB1L/NB1R).
I've put up the second box the same position on the house directly opposite that first driveway.
This means that it's at the front of the house this time, and visible from our front windows - I shall resist temptation to point a cctv camera at it!
In future notes I will call these nestbox 2L/2R (NB2L/NB2R)
With the weather turning wet as I completed that task I decided to call it a day and put my ladder away. Perhaps I can get to put up another of the boxes tomorrow.
24 March - A bright, sunny morning, despite a rather gloomy forecast,
This one is on the north-facing wall of the house opposite us, at the back corner, away from a child's bedroom at the front of the house - just in case Sparrows move in, as the male can be very noisy early in the morning.
And in keeping with the first two boxes, I shall be calling these nestbox 3L/3R (NB3L/NB3R).
I've got one more box to put up, but I have yet to ask a fourth neighbour if they would even like it!
25 March - A day which started off dry, if cloudy, with some heavy rain showers, accompanied by thunder arriving during the afternoon.
However, there was a touch of brightness brought to the day when I spotted that a pair of Starlings had moved into one of the new nest boxes.
I saw them going into both of these boxes, but it was NB2R (see above) that got the most attention, and we saw a twig being taken into it during the morning.
As the lower image suggests, getting in and out seems to be a bit of a squeeze!
26 March - Just a short entry again today. It has been showery again today.
I can confirm that the Starlings are in residence in NB2R - they have been in and out of it numerous times today, and ignoring the left hand box. And if that wasn't enough, I saw the pair mate while perched on the house's TV antenna!
With the mornings getting lighter earlier, the Sparrows left the box at 6.03am this morning. Over the next hour only the male returned, and he spent his visits clearing up the corner occupied overnight by his partner.
The pair returned just after 7am and over the next twelve minutes spent most of their time close together, taking turns in the corner. The female seemed to have priority with the male moving in to do a bit more cleaning each time she moved out of the corner. The pair were soon back in again for a similar session before 7.30am.
The only new aspect to the interaction between them was this moment as the female gave her partner's tail a quite gentle peck and then spread her wings, lowered her body and tail.
There was no sign of aggression as she held this pose for a few moments before moving away from the corner - the male moved in once more.
These joint activities came to an end by 10am. The male then made a few visits before 11am and then the box remained quiet until he returned at 2.40pm. This was a short visit while he tidied up the circle ready for the female.
At 4.51pm the pair arrived for the night, and the female went straight to 'her' corner and the male to his spot by the entrance.
As described above, for a while the male moved about (he seemed to be trying to bury himself under the straw) and the female responded by dashing across the front of the box. This went on until the male settled down at around 5.15pm.
27 March - A grey day, with just the occasional brighter spell, and dry during the morning.
While the Sparrows continue in a similar vein to the behaviour I described yesterday, there has been a development at the bottom of the garden.
There was a very brief visit by a single Great Tit earlier this morning, but at just after 11.30am I saw an all too familiar sequence. The male entered and looked around, the female followed him in, he left and she shuffled! It looks as though they are getting very close to nesting.
It may be time to switch on the brighter, daytime lighting in the box, and I must check the flashgun that will be needed for photography, should they go ahead with nesting.
The male Sparrow left first this morning, at 6am, with his partner following seven minutes later. Both birds were back in by 6.20am. They returned together several times before 7am, but in the following hour it was only the male that visited. The pair visited for about ten minutes just after 8am but from then on until 10.30am only the male visited. Then the pair arrived for a six minute visit during which the female worked on the straw around her spot in the corner. Over the next half hour or so the male made a few very brief visits before the box went quiet until the late afternoon.
The pair arrived at 4.18pm but just when it looked as though the day was over, the male left again five minutes later. The female settled down, tucking her head under her left wing but twittering outside disturbed her. The male returned at 4.49pm but left again when the female dashed across the box (in her usual way at the end of the day!). He returned soon after 5pm but left again a couple of minutes later, with his partner close behind.
At around 5.10pm the pair finally returned for the night and settled down. One final task the male appears to carry out each evening is to move some straw to block the entrance.
You can see this on the webcam image, and this is the view from our driveway. Sorry - a rather shaky image, but I didn't want to risk more than a brief appearance below the box.
28 March - A bright morning but dull with some light rain later in the day.
Nothing new to report about the Sparrows today, but it looks as though the start of Great Tit nesting could be imminent.
There were four visits to the box today. The first two involved both birds in what is a normal sequence as already mentioned above, and numerous times in previous nesting diaries. The male enters first and gives the box a quick inspection. As soon as the female arrives at the entrance the male crouches down until she enters and then leaves before the female spends a couple of minutes or more carrying out her own inspection.
Later in the morning the female made two solo inspections.
The times shown in the composite image are all GMT. From now on they will be shown in BST (British Summer Time - 1 hour advanced from GMT).
29 March - A dull morning became a dim afternoon as clouds thickened before some heavy rain arrived.
During the morning there were two visits by the Great Tit pair, at 7.55am (lasting over five minutes) and 11.10am. There was the first enthusiastic shuffle by the female during the first visit. With it wet during the afternoon I wasn't surprised that they stayed away.
The Sparrows had a 'normal' day, bringing in some twigs and straw around the middle of the day (I saw numerous Sparrows collecting materials in the garden this morning).
This image, captured late this afternoon shows how the nest cup is now looking well defined.
I'm still keeping my fingers crossed that the structure you can see immediately below the camera will not be extended up and over to form a canopy that will hide the nest cup from the camera.
Shortly after I captured this image the male moved at the far end of the box and his partner, disturbed from her slumbers dashed across, wings spread and tail up. He settled again, band so as she, although as I write this she has not yet returned to the centre of the nest cup.
Notice how the entrance is covered again.
30 March - Another day with heavy showers.
The great Tits visited their box twice today. The first visit was a straight-forward change-over visit, with the male arriving at 8am, the female entering and the male just a short time afterwards, and the female remaining another few minutes. During that time she executed several enthusiastic shuffles.
The second visit, at 9.93am, was slightly different. While the pair were in the box there appeared to be a bit of courtship feeding, and after the male left he returned for a second visit while the female was still present in the box. I haven't seen this happen very often.
The Sparrows' day was routine. They left for the first time at around 7.42am but were back in a couple of minutes later, leaving again at 7.56am. The morning visits resulted in just a bit of straw brought in, and they stayed away for much of the afternoon despite some heavy rain showers.
At the end of the day, the male made his first entrance at around 4pm , leaving several times before the pair entered at 5pm. While the female started to settle, the male continued to 'pop out' before he too settled down for the night at around 5.30pm.
At 10pm the male appears to be blocking the entrance with his body.
As dusk fell (close to 7pm) I noticed that the entrance of one of the Sparrow boxes actually had a tail sticking out - could that have been a male Sparrow doing similar guard duty?
31 March - A cold end to the month brought a relatively quiet day in the Sparrow box.
There were three visits to the Great Tit box during the day, all involving both birds. The first visits was at around 8.11am and was a short visit with the female staying for just a couple of minutes after her partner had left.
The second visit started with the male's arrival at 8.45am. He was followed in quite quickly by the female and left immediately. Once on her own the female set about the longest inspection and clean-up yet, removing bits of spider web and performing numerous shuffles before she finally departed some fourteen minutes later.
Their final visit, a routine change-over this time, came at 1.02pm with the fmeale staying about three minutes.
- Click on the images to see larger versions -