The 2001 Blue Tit Diary - Incubating the Eggs

From 23 April 2001 to 11 May

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23 April -The First Eggs have been laid - Last night's confusion cleared up!

Last night's spotting of an egg came as a surprise , although what I took to be two eggs I think were really one egg and a feather (see above the eggs in ths picture). So, yesterday was the first day of egg laying

This morning she laid another egg. At about 5.50am, while it was still dark out side she became restless. By 6am she had settled into a somewhat head down tail up pose and was breathing rapidly. I counted it to be around 130 breaths/minute. three minutes later she became still, making a clicking sound and her rear end lifted up slowly. This was the moment when an egg was laid, although I could not see it happen. She then stayed in this position for about a minute, closing her eye(s) several times before she put head head down into the nest cup to presumably check and roll the eggs.

For the next 10 minutes she rested with head head tucked under her right wing for some of the time. Her breathing had dropped to around 80/minute and was much shallower. When she started moving around the box she was quite unsteady for a couple of minutes. Then, having covered the eggs with a feather she left the box at about 6.20am.

In the course of the next few hours she brought small amounts of nesting materials so that quite soon it was impossible to see any signs of eggs in the nest.

During the rest of the day few visits were made and then at just before 7pm she entered the nest and settled down for the night. For a while the male spent time in the birch tree, perching very near the box entrance. He did not sing at all during this time. I am going to use the close-up camera for the webcam over the next few nights to give a better chance of seeing the eggs if anyone is watching around 6am BST. I will be recording it to watch at a more civilised hour!

This image, captured tonight was the first chance to see the eggs since this morning, at a time when mum was restless. She soon settled back on the eggs.

24 April - The Third Egg - The day started around 5.55am for the female this morning as she started to wake up. The male could be heard singing nearby. By 6am she was preening, although she did not try to deal with a small white downy feather that seems to be stuck to the tip of her tail! A minute later she left the box.

She returned at 6.23 and then spent some time turning the eggs and fussing over the nest cup until settling down and starting to make a clicking noise briefly at 6.28. The nise started again at 6.34, this time louder at accompanying heavy breathing at 130-140 breaths/minute. This carried on until 6.47am when she became quiet. The she sharted pulling a feather down into the nest cup and, with the male singing close to the box she suddenly got up and left at 6.50am.

There had been no obvious moment at which I could say that an egg had been laid but a careful inspection of the video from the close-up camera revealed that there are now three eggs in the nest.This morning has had all the hallmarks of a difficult delivery!

At 6.56am she returned briefly, bringing a small downy feather in. After inspecting the eggs she left, taking with her a large white feather from the nest cup.

This image shows the nest cup this evening. There is no sign of the eggs, buried under materials brought in during the day.


The female returned to the nest at just before 6.40pm and just as she was settling down she heard the male call. She immediately started 'vibrating' her wings and calling. The male entered the nest and fed her with a mealworm. As soon as he left she popped out for a minute and when she returned the male brought another mealworm for her. The picture shows them just afterwards. She now appears to be settling in for the night.

25 April - Egg No.4 laid - An early start this morning with the female awake by 5.25 am and responding to the male's calling by 5.27am. By 5.37 she was quite alert, changing her position in hte cup frequently and turning the eggs. 5.42 saw her settling and her breathing increase in pace as quiet clicks could be heard. by 5.44 her tail was held high and her rear end had lifted up slightly. I heard the sound of egg hitting egg. She held this position for about a minute before putting her head down into the cup to tend to the eggs.

After a couple of minutes she started resting again until 5.55am when she climbed out of the nest cup briefly to reveal at least one of the eggs. Just after 6am she went to the entrance and spent about half a minute looking out before leaving. At 7am she returned with a small amount of fine straw which she put on top of the eggs.She also pulled a feather and other bits down onto the eggs before leaving again.

At lunchtime, after visiting the box and finding it empty the male found his partner in the hawthorn. He collected three mealworms (one at a time) and presented them to her, having removed their heads first (see last year's diary - 25 April & 17May). Shortly afterwards the female brought another small feather into the nest.

In the evening she first returned to the box at 6.22pm. After taking a feather out she started to settle and seemed to be using her feet to clear the materials covering the eggs. When the male called she responded and as he appeared at the entrance she arched her back, holding her beak straight up until he entered the box and offered her a mealworm. When he left she spent a couple of minutes pecking at the worm which she held with her claws and ate it bit by bit. She settled back into the nest cup and after two brief trips out just before 7pm she is in for the night. 

26 April - Egg No.5 arrives - After showing her first signs of waking at 5.15am she was settled into her egg laying routine by 5.35am. A couple of minutes later the clicking started and an egg was laid by 5.38am - as usual there was no chance of a picture! After a minute's rest she spent some time tending the eggs before sttling on them for the next twenty minutes. During this time she frequently change the direction in which she was facing.

She left the nest at 5.57am, returning briefly a minute later to deliver a feather which she put on top of the eggs. On her next visit she brought nothing but instead spent several minutes pulling feathers and straw down into the nest cup sides. There was only one more visit before about 8am when she started a sequence of 13 visits over the next two hours, usually bringing in lttle bits of straw, wool or feather. One visit at 8.16 was prolonged when the sound of something walking on the box roof put her into a very agitated defensive posture, complete with snapping beak and violent movements of the head. Four house sparrows were spending time in the birch tree close to the box - none of them actually approached the entrance.

I did not have much time to watch the box through the day, although I did notice that she spent some time in there during the afternoon. In the evening she returned to the box around 6.35pm, and was in for the night (except for one brief excursion out).

27 April - Egg No.6 - By 5.25am she was awake and turning the eggs. The male appeared at the entrance a couple of minutes later having been heard calling. The female hardly responded to this visit and a couple of minutes later she went into egg laying mode. The familiar clicking started at 5.33am and the egg was laid a minute later. After resting for a minute she spent a few minutes inspection and turning the eggs. A longer rest then went on until 5.55am when she 'staggered' to the entrance, paused, and then left.

In the next two hours she made seven visits, several with straw which was placed around the cup. During the day she brought in quite a lot of fine nesting material under which she is almost buried tonight. She spent about 1.5 hours sitting on the eggs this afternoon. This evening she returned to the nest about 6.30pm and left for a short time around 7pm.

I have been trying out a different mealworm feeder. I made it after receiving an e-mail about feeders. It is based on a plan that can be found on an American birding site. (this will appear in a new window). I have marked the glass with a felt pen. The blue tits are taking time to pluck up courage to enter the feeder, although at least one has got the idea and has visited it several time through the day. The box has openings at both ends and I have put weighted strings about a foot from each of them.

Today's webcam coverage has been somewhat disrupted as a result of failures at my internet service provider.

28 April - Egg No. 7 - laid this morning at 5.32am after a short and very quiet build-up. As usual a rest of about a minute afterwards was followed by a bout of tending and turning of the eggs. She rested until 5.45am when she spent time pulling nesting materials over the eggs before leaving the box. She next visited at 6.46am when she spent 35 minutes there. Unusually, over ten minutes of that was spent standing at the side of the nest with her wings somewhat drooped. I have not seen that before.

The new feeder has been getting visitors this morning so it looks as though the blue tits are gradually accepting it.

As I write this entry at noon I have just been watching a woodlouse wandering around in the egg cup! Mum was not there at the time.

I missed most of the afternoon activity, but she was in the box by 5.37pm and only a couple of trips out followed before she settled down for the night.

29 April - Egg No. 8 and she is starting to incubate - She showed her first signs of movement about 5.25am this morning. After tending to the eggs at 5.32 she settled into her egg laing mode and with it still dark and pouring rain outside a few clicks preceded her body rising up in the nest cup and the egg being laid at 5.35. A pause of less than a minute was followed by her tending the eggs for the next five minutes. She then rested again until she left the box to go out into the rain at 6.06am.

When she returned at 6.56 she was soaked. She did not sit on the eggs. Instead, she perched at the side of the box and remained there eyes closed and with head under wing for some of that time. Alert again by 7.17 she started pulling feathers towards the cup but did not sit on the eggs before she left at 7.22am. The rain had stopped by now and up to 9.27am she made nine brief visits, each time bringing in a few bits of fine straw.

When she returned a minute later she settled on the eggs. Through the rest of the day she spent most of the time sitting on the eggs. The male brought mealworms to her a couple of times. On one occasion she left the nest and was fed right outside the dining room window.

I have added some details of the new mealworm feeder to the 'feeders' page.

30 April - Egg No.9 - This morning she started to move about by 5.25am. At 5.30 she started turning the eggs and tending the sides of the nest cup. Around 5.37am. she became still and quiet clicks preceeded her body raising up and the feint sound of egg hitting egg heralded the arrival of egg number 9.. She was soon tending the clutch and for the next five minutes she frequently shuffled to face in different directions before going head down in the cup.

By 5.44am she was starting to rest more. Just before 7am the male was heard giving a brief call to which she responded with a 'double chirp'. A further call from the male caused her to get up off the eggs, spreading her wings and vidrating them furiously. The male entered, immediately passed a mealworm to her, paused to look at the eggs (see picture) and then left. The female followed a few moments later and stayed out for 5 minutes.

She was fed again at 7.20am, this time she went to the entrance and the male stayed outside.

For the rest of the morning except for an ocassional excursion (lasting no more than five minutes at a time) she has been incubating. The new mealworm feeder is now in regular use by the pair, and several outsiders!

1 May - No more eggs? - It was a slow start for mum this morning. First light saw her still tucked down in the nest cup with very little movement apart from the ocassional shuffle. A breakfast mealworm was brought to her at 5.58am, which she took with very little ceremony. She waited another five minutes before leaving the box, returning ten minutes later. A cold, wet day.

2 May - Another cold, wet day was in prospect as first light approached at 5.25am. The blackbird had been singing for some time and the sparrows were twittering in the bushes, but the female blue tit stayed deep in the nest cup. She did not react even when the male started singing nearby. In the time since 5am she only moved to adjust her position ocassionally and her breathing rate was just over 100/minute. She started to get more restless around 5.45am but it was 5.53 before I saw her turn the eggs for the first time. She suddenly got up and left at 5.58am, returning after about 3 minutes.

A few minutes later she started calling (a chirpy call, in groups of three) I did not hear the male call, but he entered the nest and passed a mealworm to her, which she took without getting up off the eggs. Between then and 9am she was fed in the box four more times. She also left the box six times, for a total of about 38 minutes.

The rest of the day followed much the same pattern. On times the female seemed to get 'fed up' with waiting for the male to bring food to the box. She would go to the entrance and look out. Sometimes she would settle again and others she would leave the box. The male is not staying around the garden for much of the time. He often appears from up the road, from the direction of the nature reserve. Several times I saw him fly into the garden and come directly to the mealworm feeder. He would take the mealworm into the hawthorn and 'prepare' it before taking it to the box. Once I saw the female being fed in the hawthorn.

This morning I learned of a new blue tit diary, set up in Northern Ireland. Its URL is on my 'links' page, along with that of a West Wales site where nest building has just started.

3 May - Just a quick entry to say all is well. She has spent most of the day sitting on the eggs and there have been no problems or strange happenings to report!

5 May - Incubation continues to be uneventful. After the weekend I will be taking a more detailed look at the time spent in and out of the box, egg turning etc.

6 May - While the blue tits go about their patient wait for next weekend, there was a crisis in the webcam department this afternoon.

Sheila spotted that the webcam screen was blank! A quick check of cable connections confirmed the problem to be with the camera used for the main, wide-angle webcam image. It was a case of waiting for the female to leave the box, taking the camera down and checking fuses. The plug fuse worked but I found another fuse inside the camera - this had blown. A search in my shed was rewarded with a replacement.

The camera is now back in operation, although the image quality is slightly less good than previously. I shall have to wait until tomorrow morning to check a couple of switch settings which will hopefully put that right. I am hoping that the fuse failure was down to age fatigue rather than a fault.

9 May - During the day today I am trying to keep a more detailed record of activity.

The female's incubation of the eggs continues without any major problems. The photograph shows one interruption to the restful scene when a starling paid a visit just after the male had brought food at 7.03am. The female's reaction to the starling was to sit tight on the eggs, spread her wings and tail feathers and emit what sounded like a hissing sound. Although the starling's appearance was only brief she kept up this display posture for the next five minutes before settling again.

In the notes that follow I am asuming that every time she puts her head down into the nest cup she is turning an agg -

During the hour up to first light, around 4.50am, she changed her position in the nest 11 times and turned the eggs 6 times. In the next three hours (to 8am) the eggs were turned 42 times. There were two 'major' sessions of shuffling at 5.40 and 7.50am. She left the nest 6 times, for a total of just 13 minutes. The male brought food into the box to her 4 times ( the first visit at 6.36am).

In the next four hours, up to mid-day, she turned the eggs another 35 times. She left the nest 9 times for a total of 41 minutes. The male brought food just 5 times.

Unfortunately I was not about when the next video should have been set up so I have no records for this afternoon. This morning's records show a couple of patterns emerging. Firstly, she leaves the nest every half hour or so for an average of just over 3.5 minutes. The longest gap between trips was 46 minutes. Secondly, egg turning seems to happen at an average of around 10 times per hour, I need to do some more counting to get a better number for this.

10 May - Apologies to anyone who looked at the webcam during the night and saw only a grey box. I hope to have the problem resolved soon. In the meantime I have switched to the close-up camera.

It seems to be working again this evening. It has been difficult to get to the box as the bue tit has been very restless today. Perhaps it was the weather (today has been warm and very humid) but she made frequent trips from the box and was not at all predictable. Unfortunately, during my visits to the box I bumped the IR light source so that it no longer points into the box properly. Because of the BT's behaviour I was not able to reset it today. As a result tonight's image will be very poor. I will put it right tomorrow.

11 May - Problems with the IR lighting continue tonight. I am puzzled as to why the image is so dim for both cameras. This suggests that the infra-red diode is not producing its maximum output. Today has been very warm (26C) and I am wondering if the higher temperatures are affecting its performance - a job for tomorrow. What with the camera playing up it is very annoying!

The warm weather seems to be affecting the blue tit as well. She has continued to make frequent trips out of the box today and spends quite a bit of time preening in the birch tree. Has she picked up some unwanted passengers in the way of fleas or something?

Yr2001 BT Diary Intro.

Nest Building

Chicks' First Days

The Chicks' Second Week

The Chicks' Third Week

The Chicks Leave the Nest