The Chicks prepare to fly
26 May - Two weeks from hatching and the chicks are looking more like birds. Their feathers have grown to almost cover all parts of the body.
They are moving about the nest box much more, although there are still periods when they all return to the next cup. The right hand picture shows seven of the chicks, impatient when they are kept waiting a long time for a parent to return with food.
The wait is over for one chick when dad returns with a caterpillar.
Also, notice the ring of white feathers that surround the cloaca.
Tonight, with the outside temperature at about 16C the chicks are alone in the box.
Last year, the female left the chicks alone in the box, but not until the middle of the third week. This time it is four days earlier in the process, but the temperature is a couple of degrees warmer.
27 May - The chicks remained alone until just after 5.09am when dad brought the first meal of the day. This was quickly followed by a series of deliveries before mum appeared in the box at 5.13am.
During the day she has spent very little time in the box and there have been some quite long gaps in the feeding, presumably as the parents hunt for caterpillars. They seem almost to alternate between these longer forays and using the mealworm feeder.
For the last week or so another pair of blue tit adults have also been coming to the feeder. Their visits have increased in frequency in the last two days, suggesting that they too are feeding chicks. They perch on a rope used to support my video link in order to do their mealworm processing before flying off up the road.
This image gives a glimpse of the whole family, chick number 8 being in the shadows on the left. It is plain to see that the nest cup is just not big enough any more.
A close-up of one chick showing how it is gaining the facial markings of the adult but still has the chick's gaping mouth
As I write this a late visitor to the box has appeared. I would like to think that it might do me a great favour and catch a couple of the large mosquitoes that have been fed by me over the last couple of days when I have been down behind the trees and in the nest box tower!!!
One of my books states that chicks could leave the nest about 19 days after hatching . If they follow this pattern then they would depart from the box on Thursday 31 May. I shall be keeping a careful watch from Tuesday onwards!
Last year's brood took 21 days
to fledge, so they could keep us waiting until the weekend.
28 May - A day closer and the chicks really look like small birds now (if you know what I mean!).
In this picture a close look will reveal all eight chicks as mum enters with food this afternoon.
Here, dad is arriving with a mealworm shortly after mum's delivery.
Unfortunately a bit of carelessness on my part means that the other colour photographs taken today were lost. I shall try again tomorrow!
The next couple of images from the webcam give some details of the state of the chicks' development today.
First, the wings - There have been a number of exercise sessions today as they try them out.
The tail feathers are still very short by adult standards.
At least one chick is still a bit less well developed. This one still shows glimpes of the bare areas either side of the line of feathers running down the back.
Tonight the last visit by an parent was at 8.55pm when the male brought food to the box. The chicks took some time to settle down afterwards and at 10pm all but one are in the nestcup. Most of the time at least one is restless.
A chick stands and waits patiently.
Throughout the day there has been a lot of preening, stretching of wings and the occasional flapping session as the wings are tested as shown in the next two images.
This evening one chick went a bit further than just looking towards the entrance.
This could be my last colour photograph of the eight chicks together, and all singing the same tune as they wait to be fed.
Last year the chicks left the box at around 6.30am so the video is set to start recording at 4am - just in case tomorrow is the big day!
30 May - I got up early this morning just in case they decided to fly. A couple of minutes later dad arrived with a feed and this evening they are still with us!
Wing testing went on at intervals all day but this was the only time that it happened when I was there.
Even the parents were more nervous about my presence today. Here, dad was reluctant to release his grip on the entrance as he passed on a food item
This evening the parents have been feeding the chicks infrequently. This image shows the chicks huddled over an hour ago and as I look at the screen now they have moved to the back of the box.
I wonder of the reduction of feeding is the start of the parents stategy to pursuade the chicks to leave the box. Perhaps we will find out tomorrow (video set again!).
31 May - Another bright sunny morning and the chicks are still at home!
A great deal of wing stretching, flapping and preening greeted me when I turned on the TV this morning, and the early morning sunshine highlighted the dust thrown up by all this activity. The chicks were having some useful practice as they pecked at it!
It took me a while to establish that all the chicks were still present. A careful look at this image will reveal all eight chicks plus dad (with the long tail). Feeding has been quite frequent so far this morning.
This is the nearest I have seen any of the chicks get to leaving so far. This look at the world lasted for over a minute, but when mum arrived it rejoined the others. Since then they have twittered, preened and continued to be very restless(up to now, 8.40am)
Here is a close-up image taken during one of their few 'quiet' spells.
Feeding has gone on continuously through the day (now it is 7pm) with the chicks more interested in the food than looking out.
Here, a chick presents its rear end and as it produces a faecal sac we can see the ring of feathers that surround the cloaca.
When I changed the glass today the chicks were very nervous, perhaps even more so than yesterday, so I decided not to spend time taking colour photographs. This is the best close-up image of a chick that I have obtained today.