The 2001 Blue Tit Diary - The Chicks' first days

From 12 to 18 May 2001

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12 May - The first egg hatches -

I have not quite woken up yet at 7.42am and I have just been startled by the sight of the blue tit eating an egg shell! Have I got all my calculations wrong? This was not supposed to happen until after the weekend.

She has settled back down on the eggs now so I shall have to wait and see what happens later.


Confirmation a few minutes later when she left the nest, returning with an insect(?). She then made a rapid chirping sound to signal to the chick (not visible yet) and then fed it.





Here (see left) is the first view of a chick. Below the mum's head you can see the white, almost oval outline of its mouth wide open and waiting for a meal at 10.35am.


Another shell was eaten at 11.30 am before she settled down again in the nest cup and shuffled her way vigorously round a half turn. How do the chicks survive this?




By the afternoon at least five chicks had hatched out. Dad is now starting to play his part in their care and he has already made a couple of visits. Here he (on the right) looks as the female prepares to try again to get one of the chicks to accept its first 'big' meal. If you look carefully at the nest cup you can see a chick, looking as though it is reclining against the left side. Its wings(to be) are spread, with one resting on the egg. Its mouth is slightly open and shows up a white outline. It is blind and responds to the call its parent makes by opening the mouth wide and stretching itself as high as it can. At this stage they often fall over in the process of doing this.

When the male arrives with a large food object the adults seem to go through a routine of passing it back and fore between them as though they are breaking it down into smaller pieces which the female takes into her mouth before offering bits to the chicks.

In this next image both parents appear to be watching as a chick presents its rear end ready to pass a faecal sac which one parent will the either eat at this stage or remove from the nest when the chicks are older. You can see the chick, just below the female(left) with its legs sticking out on either side as it tries to push itself higher up the side of the nest cup.

By the end of the day there were still some eggs waiting to hatch and the female began spending more time sitting on the eggs and chicks. If last year is anything to go by the remaining eggs will hatch tomorrow and then there will be little daytime rest for either parent until the chicks fledge. Last year it took three weeks to reach that moment.

I have had to resort to using a visible light source (12 volt light bulb with dimmer arrangement) as the infra-red source does not like the warmer weather. This will be dimmed at night so I am afraid the night-time webcam will continue to be of low quality.

At about 11.15pm, as I was setting up an appropriate new chapter for the diary, crunching sounds from the TV drew my attention to the nest box image in time to see another egg shell being eaten - another chick has hatched.

13 May - The day started early for mum this morning. By 4.10am she was having an early breakfast of eggshell. The picture shows her holding onto it with one leg as she nibbled at the edge. Afterwards she settled again until 4.53am when she went briefly to the entrance to look out (sunrise due at 5.12am).




Two minutes later she left the box and moments afterwards the male entered with the first small feed of the day.

Over the next few hours he made frequent visits while the female alternated her time almost equally between sitting on the chicks and being out of the box. She would snuggle down low in the cup, making herself as wide as possible to cover the chicks. Often the male would come in, usually with something small that he would pass to her. She would then rise up just enough to pass the food down to a chick.

On one occasion, at 5.20am the male brought in what looked like a mealworm and tried to feed the chicks. He was there for what seemed like ages until one chick maaged to get hold of it. As it struggled to swallow the male finally decided that it was all too much. He pulled the mealworm out of the chick's mouth and left the box with it. Moments later he was back with just part of it, which was devoured easily.

As the sun rose the female spent less time in the box and the rest of the day has been a case of feeding and toilet needs.

Here one of the chicks lifts itself higher than the rest in the competition to be the first beak to receive when a food delivery arrives. Its wings look more like small arms at this early stage, and they are used as such to help in the reach for the heights.



Moments later dad turned up, seemingly without food, although he did pass something from in his beak to a chick. If you look at the highest chick you can see the dark bulbous area where its eye is still covered over. You can also (just) make out the fuzzy down on the top of its head.

In the image I can see the beaks of seven chicks


This image (left) shows the male just about to collect a faecal sac from the rear end of a chick that it has just fed. This was eaten by him before he left.





At 8.30pm the female has been sitting on the eggs for some time now. She has been in the box most of the evening as temperatures cool down from a daytime high of around 27C outside to a cooler 15C at the moment. As soon as I have posted this I shall dim down the light in the box to its night-time level.

14 May - A colder day in prospect today. Here six chicks are eager to be in receipt of the morsel brought in by day. Their mouths already look bigger that they did yesterday and their necks seem longer!






I mentioned yesterday about the male pulling out a piece of food deemed to be too long. Here he is doing it again this morning.


At 4.40pm the outside temperature is just under 14C and the air is damp.

As the male (right) passes a morsel to the female, this is the first time that I have seen eight chicks clearly.(the white mark at bottom right of nest cup is not a chick).



As evening approached mum spent more and more time on the nest. I notice a definite tendency for her to place her body to one side of the egg cup . Her wing (usually the right one) is held out to her side to complete the blanket effect over the chicks.

Her rest periods took place between food visits by the male. After each one of these she usually left the box straight after the male for a short time.

This activity ceased by 8.05pm and she is now settled down, head tucked under her wing.



15 May - A cool day is in prospect for today after a night-time low of 11C.

In the early morning there was only the occasional shuffling about by the female until 5.10am when a call from the male was heard. She immediately left the nest and the male entered with food.

From then until 8am a fairly consisted pattern was established. Mum spent over half the three hours sitting on the nest in 14 sessions averaging around 7 minutes each. Dad brought food to the box 59 times ( pretty evenly spaced at around 20 per hour) and mum 30 times up to 8am.

If mum was sitting when the male arrived he would usually pass the food to her before it was given to the chicks. On one visit he spent ages trying to get a chick to eat what looked like a pupa. When mum returned she took over the task and obviously tenderised it by moving it side to side through her beak several times.

Other commitments have prevented my from spending too much time following events though the day today. As this image shows, activity continued later tonight and did not stop until after 8.30pm.

Comparing this image with one from yesterday I can see a definite increase in the size of those gaping beaks.

Mum has been quite restless ever since feeding ceased and spends a great deal of time 'working' on the sides of the nest cup or with her head down in the cup doing a lot of rearranging?


16 May - A cool, showery day in prospect. A wet approach to dawn saw little activity in the box as mum rested until dad turned up at 5.21am with the first feed. He made three more visits before the female left the box for the first time at 5.46am. Between then and mid-day she spent a total of nearly two and three quarter hours in the box sitting on the chicks over 30 sessions, including one of 20 minutes during a heavy shower. In addition she brought in 55 food deliveries.

During one feeding sequence the female arrived at the box when the male was already inside. The male took the food from her and fed it to a chick. Mum waited for a faecal sac to appear and left before the male.

In the time between 4 - 12am the male brought food to the chicks 126 times (15 - 16 per hour), a lower rate than yesterday, probably due to the showers.

The next eight hours saw frequent heavy showers. Between mid-day and 8pm The male made 115 food deliveries (14-15 per hour) and the female 82 deliveries. She also spent about 2.5 hours sitting on the chicks in 26 sessions.

This image shows mum just about to leave with eight chicks asking for more!

A few feeds took place after 8pm but activity had finished before 8.30pm and a rather restless mum started to settle down for the night.




This image of mum doing whatever she does at the bottom of the nest with great enthusiasm. The two chicks seem to have been pushed up by the process. What is happening to the others?




!7 May - A very windy, dull day with the temperature remaining below 10C. Although I have not been recording details today, the mum does not seem to have spent anywhere near as much time in the nest. Food being brought to the nest has been quite varied with various spiders,insects, and caterpillars as much as mealworms.

This afternoon I have caught my first good view of the body of a chick when, after being fed it literally reversed up the side of the nest cup to produce a faecal sac. The two close-up pictures below show the chick a a bit more detail.



This first image shows the areas where the first feather development is taking place. The feather patterns on its wings show up clearly. There seem to be patches at the 'shoulders' as well as down the spine. I think the dark line that goes across below the spine ( at the top of the image) is where the tail feathers will develop.






This second image shows the faecal sac being produced moments before it was removed by dad.





Here is the daily group photograph of the group of chicks. There are eight visible. I am beginning to think that there are only eight in total.





Yesterday I mentioned the way the mother often goes 'head down' in the nest and shuffles about furiously, sometimes turning almost upside-down as she does so. Occasionally she come up with a bit of straw that she takes away. At this stage, faecal material is removed on demand, so there cannot be much to remove.

I wonder if the shuffling is probably more to do with conteracting the compacting of the nesting materials at the bottom of the cup. Perhaps she is simply 'fluffing up' the bedding(?).

The top of the nest is 10cm (4in) above the floor of the box and I estimated that the nest cup started off between 2-3cm deep, so there must be a degree of compacting down taking place.

18 May - Today was a much better day weatherwise and the feeding this morning was fast and furious. This first image is the nearest to a group picture for the morning.

This afternoon the female spent a great deal of time working on the nest cup . It seems as though she was making it bigger.





The picture shows the rim of the cup in a very untidy state by this evening. The material now overhangs the edges and when the chicks drop down they disappear from sight more than previously.






In this close-up there is the first sign of an eye near to opening. I saw it several times through the day but this is the best image of it yet.


BT Diary Intro.................Nest Building .................Incubation

The Chicks - The Second Week

The Chicks - The Third Week

The Chicks Leave the Nest