The 2010 Nestbox Diary

May (part 4)

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15 May - Blue Skies, the temperature over 10C before 9am - it has to mean that the cold spell is over,

White Spot's partner arrives in SW(LE), 15 May 2010

and to make it a perfect start to the day, 'White Spot' has been joined by his partner!

WS had already been out for a short while between 6.49-7.11am. Then he left again at 8.16am, perhaps in response to a call (?), because when he returned three minutes later he was followed in by his mate.

Her head is spotless(!) and her chin appears lighter than his.

As I write (9.05am)this WS is preening her and is sometimes vibrating his wings as he does so.


Both Swift pairs in their boxes tonight, 15 May

The pair were back ad forth to their box all day, and very noisy, but I had to wait until this evening before I had my first chance to see both Swift pairs in their boxes.

During the evening I went out into the driveway to record the sounds emanating from SW(LE) but I'm afraid a combination of cars, aircraft and hot water systems defeated me. Tomorrow (Sunday)  there will be too much human activity to try then, but I hope to succeed over the next few days, if they continue to be vocal.


I saw no Sparrow activity involving the Swift boxes today.


16 May - A bright start deteriorated into a cloud late morning, and by the end of the afternoon it was very dull, with heavy showers arriving from the west in the early evening.

The Swifts were out for the day by 9am, other than a couple of visits in the early afternoon. However, as the rain set in the pair in SW(UP) was back in for the night by 4.23pm. In SW(LE) the first bird arrived back at 5.55pm but 'White Spot didn't appear for another 22 minutes. This may have been because of something that happened at the entrance of SW(RI) just after the first Swift arrived.

At 5.57pm the long beak of a Starling appeared at the entrance, and while the bird couldn't again access it was able to get hold of the straw ring and made several attempts to pull it out of the entrance. This is now blocked and I'll need to get the ladder out tomorrow to move.


20 May - The Swifts' first egg - in SW(UP)

In SW(UP), the Swifts' first egg is revealed - 20 May 2010Over the last few days I've been taking advantage of a quiet period in the boxes to do other things, but this morning I must return to the diary to record a historic event for us - the pair of Swifts in SW(UP) have produced their first egg.

I hope to come up with a few more details later, but I believe it was laid just before 7.30am, with the male in very close proximity throughout the process! The first opportunity to see the egg didn't arise until just before 8am.


The Swifts in SW(UP) - 20 May 2010

After that, they remained huddled close together over the eggs, and the first of the pair didn't leave the box until 10.30am. Its partner (presumably the female?) remained for another seven minutes.

This was a cctv image captured not long before they left, and which for me just about sums up the close bond that obviously exists between the pair.


The Swifts' first egg in SW(UP) - 20 May



And then the egg once they had flown.




The Swifts in SW(LE) left that box at 7.40am, returning at 10.51am for a stay of around fifty minutes.


A Magpie inspects the entrance to a Swift's nest, 17 May


A couple of days ago I was outside, pointing my camera at Sparrows when the Magpie turned up and spent several minutes investigating the entrance to my neighbour's loft that is used by their Swift pair.

This occurred in the late morning and I suspect that the Swifts would have been away from the site, but it does illustrate a potential danger as long as the Magpie has its own young to feed.


A House Sparrow feeds its chick, 17 May


At that time, the Sparrows were also very busy feeding their young, with chicks in three of my boxes being fed at the entrances.

Yesterday, in what almost seemed like a coordinated event, the chicks for all three nests fledged.

Also yesterday, the Starling chicks that grew up in the Swift box across the street also fledged, and I missed what would have been a great picture of one of the fledglings in silhouette as it flapped its wings on a ridge tile of the roof above the box.


A male House Sparrow inspects a Swift box, 19 May



For the Sparrows at least, nesting isn't over, and yesterday I saw a male investigating both of the Swift boxes that I put up in the driveway next along from ours. That box is conveniently positioned so that I can monitor it from our garden!


House Sparrows mating, 20 May


And in confirmation that there will be more Sparrow broods on the way, this pair decided to mate on the feeder support this morning, and this afternoon another pair mated repeatedly on our roof!



Great Tit female at bird table, 20 May


Returning to the Great Tits for a moment, the female is still about, with what does look like a long-term injury to her right leg. This morning she attempted to take sunflower kernels from a feeder, but clearly found it much easier to feed on the bird table, not something that I would normally expect to do, beyond a more usual quick snatch and grab raid.

Yesterday I watched and listened to a very healthy looking male Great Tit singing loudly in the Birch tree. It is possible he is moving into what has become an empty territory.


While watching the Great Tit, I also noticed that the Robins appear to be feeding their young away from the nest now.

At the end of the afternoon I had a moment of doubt about the egg in SW(UP) - was it really a Swift egg, or could it be a Sparrow egg that had re-emerged from under the straw? They vary in size by no more than 3mm in length (Sparrow egg 22x16mm, Swift egg 25x16mm). The Swift eggs are plain white, and the Sparrow eggs are white with varying degrees of brown/grey speckles. Unfortunately, the speckles didn't show up in the cctv images and so the Sparrows eggs appeared to be plain.

The Swift egg in SW(UP), 20 MayThe only way to satisfy myself was to get the ladder out once more while the skies overhead were devoid of Swifts. Something else that the cctv image doesn't reveal is the depth of the nest cup. This meant that I couldn't see the egg so all I could do was to quickly put a scale over the nest cup and take a photograph before retreating as quickly as possible.

As it turned out, the scale had little value because it was much closer to the camera than the egg, but at least it was possible to confirm that the egg was plain white, and with a matt finish, and the shape is right for a Swift!

I'll feel even more assured when a second egg appears tomorrow morning.

The pair from SW(UP) stayed away all day, the first bird returning at 6.43pm and its partner arriving some thirteen minutes later.

In contrast, the pair from SW(LE) returned to their box three more times during the afternoon and early evening. Each time it was 'White Spot' that arrived first, each time with a feather in his beak. Each time, his partner arrived a minute later and the pair indulged in mutual preening, especially around the head. The three visits lasted between 14 - 37 minutes. At 8.28pm they have not yet returned for the night.


21 May - A bright, sunny morning, the Swifts from SW(LE) left at 7.28am, and at 8.03am there is still just one egg in SW(UP), but the birds are still there, so we watch and wait! At least it's given me a chance to catch up with yesterday's large images.

The Swift egg in SW(UP), 21 May


As they left at 8.38am it was just the one egg that was left behind in the box, and during the day it seems that their behaviour has changed in that unlike yesterday they returned to the nest three times.



At 10.20am one returned, its partner joining it eight minutes later, with both staying until 11.21am. The pattern was repeated when the first entered the nest at 12.56pm  with its partner appearing some sixteen minutes later. This time they both stayed until around 3.15pm when they left 3 minutes apart.

Finally, they visited again at 4.33/4.57pm. This time one partner remained on the egg when the other Swift left at 6.26pm, not returning for the night until 8.57pm.


Over in SW(LE) the daily routine continued as usual. The pair left at 7.28am and returned for the first time at 9.17am, with 'White Spot' first in  and his partner nearly a minute later. They left together at 9.56am.

The next visits came at
11.06/11.07am until 11.45am;
12.20/12.21pm until 1.33pm;
2.06/2.08pm until 2.58pm;
4.34/3.36pm until 5.02pm;

and finally, 8.41/8.42pm for the night.

In every case it was 'White Spot' that entered first, and they always left together.

The Swifts in SW(LE) this afternoon, 21 MayAt nearly every visit 'White Spot' brought something in, usually a small feather, but when he appeared just after 2pm he had several lengths of fine straw in his beak.

Until his partner arrived he spent his time working his way anti-clockwise what constitutes the nest cup, working on it, and when the second swift did arrive it was ignored for a short time as he completed the task.



A male Sparrow inspects the Swifts' egg, 21 May


Back in SW(UP) there were a couple of uncertain moments this morning when the nest and egg were inspected twice by a male Sparrow.

During the first visit at 9.49am the Sparrow crossed to the nest cup, looked down and then pecked at the egg a couple of times before leaving.


A male Sparrow inspects the Swifts' nest, 21 May



Ten minutes later it returned, having first been into SW(LO). This time it took another look at the egg, but it left it alone this time. Instead, it returned to the entrance, started pulling at lengths of straw, and finally performed a shuffle in the far corner before leaving!



Before I forget completely, while I was outside between 8 - 9am there were at least eight Swifts flying over the neighbourhood while SW(UP) was still occupied by its resident pair, so there are other Swifts about now.


22 May - Another brilliant day which will become very warm if the forecast is correct. Again, there were at least eight Swifts about this morning, and a House Martin overhead briefly.

Late news - Egg #2 in SW(UP)- see towards end of report!

If there was any uncertainty, yesterday, today there is no doubt about incubation being under way in SW(UP). I have not had a single glimpse of the egg. At 8.06am one partner (I'll call it S1) left the box while the other (S2) remained on the egg.

At 9.20am S1 returned, ands stayed for twenty minutes before leaving again. It returned again at 10.48am, and this time the pair swapped over, keeping the egg hidden as they did so.  S2 left the nest for the first time today at 10.54am.

Over in SW(LE) the pair left for the first time at 7.41am. In his usual fashion, 'White Spot' returned with a bit of 'soft stuff' in his beak at 7.47am. He still had it in his beak while shuffling in a circle when his partner arrived a minute later. There was a long period of rest and mutual preening before they departed once more at 9.13am.

Now that things are settled for the time being in SW(UP), I'll change the webcam back to the quad image.

A male Sparrow inspects SW(LO) at noon, 22 May

If you had been watching the webcam around noon you will have seen that a Sparrow is still house hunting, this time spending nearly ten minutes in SW(LO). Most of the time it remained next to the exit, but it did make a few cautious inspections pf the straw ring.

It seems to have given up on the idea of squeezing a family into one of the House Martin boxes.



A late afternoon update, and a surprise as I looked back through the afternoon's recordings -

The Swifts in SW(UP) reveal egg #2 this afternoon, 22 MaySwift S2 returned to SW(UP) at 12.20pm and there was another change-over, Swift S1 leaving at 12.43pm.

It returned at 1.52pm and two minutes later both birds moved away from the nest cup momentarily, revealing for the first time today not one but two eggs.

If I have time later I'll take a closer look at the morning's recording to try and pinpoint when it was laid.


{Following several checks through the recording I'm still not completely sure about the timing, but I think the egg was laid at around 10.15am}

The pair changed over sitting on the eggs and S2 left at 2.06pm. There were two more change-overs during the afternoon - S2 in at 3.45pm; S1 out at 4.27: S1 in at 5.27pm and S2 at 5.40pm.

In SW(LE), after the pair left at 9.13am 'White Spot' (WS) next appeared, complete with feather, at 11.37am. This time his partner didn't appear for eleven minutes rather than the more usual one, but they left together at 2.18pm after a prolonged stay.

The usual pattern of visits was interrupted at 3.15pm when it was WS's partner that arrived. She didn't bring in anything for the nest, but stayed and worked on the nest cup until she left again at 3.32pm.

Normal services were resumed when WS brought in a feather at 4.42pm  and was followed in by his partner a minute later. They left again at 5.51pm.

A further update at 9.30pm - I have yet to go through the evening's recordings, but there was another surprise waiting when I came in from the garden where I had been watering some potted plants and watching the last Swifts of the evening.

While outside I had heard quite a bit of screaming coming from SW(LE), but as I have heard the pair screaming from inside the box before I didn't take as much notice as perhaps I should have.

Two Swifts fight in SW(LE) this evening - 1, 22 May


When I returned indoors I saw the reason for the noise - as I write this there are three Swifts in there.

While 'White Spot' is minding his own business in the nest cup, at the far end of the box there are two Swifts tightly interlocked in what appears to be a wrestling match.


Two Swifts fight in SW(LE) this evening - 2 (cropped cctv image), 22 May


One bird seems to be pinned down by the other and the two have sessions of pecking at each other punctuated by short pauses.

Hopefully this contest will end before it is completely dark outside, and before too much damage is done to one or both birds.


The incident began when a Swift entered SW(LE) at 8.35pm. When WS entered two minutes later it was clear that it was not his partner that had arrived first. There was some aggression between the two, but WS was moving away when his partner arrived at 8.39pm and engaged the intruder immediately. As I write this paragraph at 11.06pm the pair are still grappling, with their beaks engaged. A couple of times since my first report I've seen them edge towards the exit, but each time they have moved back away from it.

Two Swifts fight in SW(LE) this evening - after two and a half hours


While WS has stayed out of the fight for much of the time, on several occasions he has been in the way of a thrashing wing. A couple of times he has headed for the pair and as far as I can tell has attempted to preen what I must assume is his partner before retreating back to the nest cup.

Here they are at 11.15pm.


Of course, it is now dark outside, so I have to wonder what will happen when one of them does finally manage to break free and escape.

The pair seemed to reach a sort of stalemate with their heads right by the exit between 11.30pm and 12.20am before the struggle moved back to the rear of the box.

Two Swifts fight in SW(LE) this evening - coming to a climax, 22/23 May



Then, at 12.40am there were a final few moments of chaos during which the pair's flailing wings enveloped 'White Spot',



Two Swifts fight in SW(LE) this evening - defeated bird leaves, 22/23 May


before one of the birds managed to slip out of the exit.

While there were no signs of injuries, it took a little while for the victor to settle down, with surprisingly little preening being done. It was obvious that it was 'White Spot's partner as they settled down together for the rest of the night.

It seems that the intruder also escaped relatively unharmed as there was no sign of it on the ground outside afterwards.



- Click on the images to see larger versions -

2010 Nestbox Diary Index .......... .................................  ..May (part 5)