The 2001 Blue Tit Diary - Nest Building

Up to 22 April 2001

Go to last entry in the chapter


Since last year's nesting, there have been blue tits about in the garden all year round. Despite this, the box has not been used for roosting at all. A pair of blue tits laid claim to the box during late December, defending it against at least one intruder.

By mid January visits to the box were being made daily, with some days seeing an occupancy lasting several hours. As the month ended we saw the first bits of straw appear in the box.


February saw very little change with only the occasional addition of straw so that at the beginning of March the box was still almost empty.



However, the box started to show more signs of progress in the next few days with the frequency of visits increasing, with a gradual appearance of more nesting materials, including moss.

On the 11th March The female started work in earnest, so that by the end of the day the bottom of the box was almost completely covered (see below).


Monday, March 12 was sunny in the morning and work in the box continued until the afternoon, when it started raining and the outside temperature dropped.

During the course of the morning a sparrow approached the box. the blue tit inside went through frantic display postures (below) until the sparrow left.


Every so often, after delivering a bit of straw or moss, the blue tit would hold it's body low against the floor and, flapping it's wings furiously it would push the nesting materials to the sides of the box, as though it was trying to compact them.

By the end of the day the bottom of the box was just about completely covered.

Tuesday March 13 has seen continued activity in the box as more materials are brought in. The blue tit pair had a scare this afternoon when the box was besieged by four house sparrows. While the female was in an almost continuous defensive posture inside, the male watched from high up in the birch tree, keeping clear of the sparrows.


Wednesday March 14 - Nest building continues with enthusiasm today. A pattern is starting to emerge, with the female regularly clearing the material from the area that she is pictured in here. I assume that this will be the eventual position of the nest cup.

Since this image was captured she has started to bring in more moss and other fine bits so that the coarse material is gradually being hidden.

Thursday March 15 - The picture on the left shows the state of the nest first thing this morning, before the day's work on it began. You can still see a small patch of the timber at the bottom of the box, just right of centre. As I write this, an hour later, a starling is at the entrance while both blue tits are perched on the birch tree, female with moss(?) in beak.
As soon as she could get in she spent quite some time inspecting it before getting on with moving bits of moss around the box. Finally she picked up one bit of moss and left the nest with it in her beak-why?


Lunchtime brought another sparrow visit. Six sparrows spent time in the birch tree and a few of them seemed to take it in turns to go to the box entrance. The female blue tit, trapped in the box displayed almost continuously for about two minutes before spending most of the next three minutes tucked up against a front corner of the box. The male spent all this time perched, as before, high in the birch tree, above the sparrows. After the sparrows left it was about 8 minutes before nest building resumed.
In the afternoon more fine 'straw' was being brought in again, rather than moss. It is as though she is deliberately layering the nest materials.

Friday 16 March - The floor of the box is no longer visible now and the grass brought in yesterday afternoon makes it look very untidy! She has not yet spent a night in the box. By 8am she is already making visits and spending time compacting around the cup area.

Saturday 17 March - The dull, damp and cold weather seems to have curtailed the blue tit's efforts to a great extent today. She spent a little time this morning bringing in small pieces of straw - no moss seen.
The box has not been used for roosting so far.

Sunday 18 March - Just as yesterday it is cold today (max 5C this afternoon), there has been very little activity at the box today, just a few visits this morning. The blue tits are about. They are coming quite often to the mealworm feeder near the house.

Monday 19 March - Today has been a brighter day, although still cold (6-7C). There was some activity in the box this morning, the blue tit bringing in small amounts of moss and a couple of white down feathers. She also spent a short time working on the nest cup area. I did not see her in the box after mid-day.
This evening I made some changes to the infra-red lighting and the camera position behind the box. I took a couple of colour images of the nest, before the female starts roosting. The picture shows clearly how she has been forming the nest cup in what hopefully will be a good spot for photography.

Tuesday 20 March - I saw only one visit to the box today. No doubt the return to winter conditions has disrupted progress on the nest. I wonder how the other birds are going to cope with this cold weather (max 1C and wet snow today). On a positive note, I managed to get the webcam software up and running today.

Wednesday 21 March - Only a couple of visits again today. It is still cold (6C). The blue tits are frequent visitors to the mealworm feeder now.

Thursday 22 March - For anyone who has looked at the web cam and seen nothing happening, here's one image it captured earlier! It is less cold this morning (8C at 9.25am) but everything outside is very damp. If we are lucky enough to see some sunshine perhaps nest building will resume soon.
Even though it warmed up to 13C later in the day there were only a few visits in total, with just a small amount of nesting material being brought in today.

Friday 23 March - Again, wet weather seems to be putting the brakes on progress. The box has been visited several times today but with no building materials - probably a lack of dry supplies (?). The blue tits have gone through quite a few mealworms today.

Saturday 24 March - Cold (<10C) but dry day and again there has been virtually no action in the box. A couple of visits were made this morning but I have seen none since lunch.
Viewers of the webcam may have seen that the camera has not been refreshing correctly at times today. There seems to be a problem that causes uploading of the image to fail after a seemingly random time. I hope to get this solved in the next few days.

Sunday 25 March - A maximum temperature of about 6C and still we wait - and we changed to British Summer Time today! The female still makes a few morning visits. When I look back at last year's diary, nest building is still ahead of schedule, although by now last year she was roosting in the box. Serious nest building was under way by the end of the month in 2000 with the final 'soft' upholstery being added at the start of April. Patience (and optimism) is a necessary virtue.

Tuesday 27 March - Hardly any visits in the last two days, although I did see a little bit of nesting material go in yesterday morning. The weather forecasters are promising a bit of spring after this weekend.

Thursday 29 March - The last couple of days have been damp(!) but we have seen the sun a couple of times. Yesterday there was more activity in the box with some nesting materials brought in during the morning. There seems to be no interest in the box during the afternoons.
I have just had to change the glass in the box as it was getting 'steamed up' as sunshine warmed the box and its damp contents. Just afterwards I saw a blue tit in there for the first time today (about 11.20am). I wonder how much the nesting of birds like the blue tit are affected by the lack of dry materials for enclosed nests.
Not long afterwards a bumble bee entered the box and started exploring the straw. Presently the blue tit entered with a large amount of moss in its beak. One look at the bee and the blue tit left very quickly, taking the moss with it. I did not see it in the box again today. The bee left after about an hour. I hope that things will be back to normal tomorrow. I have some pictures of a bumble bee nest. If I can lay my hands on them in the next couple of days I will include one or two in my garden diary.

Saturday 31 March - A brief entry tonight just to say that the blue tit has been much more active today, with quite a bit of moss added, especially during the morning. I have now found a picture of the bumble bee nest and added it to the 'Wildlife Pictures' page.
Also, I have had to take some precautions at my blue tit mealworm feeder because an intelligent starling has worked out how to approach it and steal the mealworms! It now has a partial cage installed around it that seems to have done the trick!



Here is the female during one of her visits on Saturday, bringing in a bit more bedding.





Sunday 1 April - This picture of the nest this morning suggests little progress in the last two weeks, although quite a bit has in fact been added in that time.

A comparison of nest images from first thing this morning and 5.30pm shows that there have been no visits to the box during the day today. It has remained cloudy more or less all day, just about dry and with a maximum temperature around 16C.


Monday 2 April - At mid-day I am wondering what has happened to the blue tits. The nest has not been visited since Saturday afternoon. I have seen only one blue tit in the garden all morning at that was to feed...... Barely has the e-ink dried when she turns up and spends a minute shuffling about in the nest cup!
During the afternoon several more visits were made, although I did not see any nesting materials going in. It is almost as though the process is on hold and she is just checking that all is well.

Tuesday 3 April - An encouraging level of activity during the morning and early afternoon today. A mixture of coarse and fine materials were brought in, including a large downy white feather. The picture does not show it, but the nesting material over most of the nest is already over 10 cm deep, while the near right corner is less than 2cm deep

Unfortunately the webcam missed most of the day's action as I was doing some computer housekeeping, including the dreaded defrag.No interest has been shown in using the box as a roost so far.

5 April - The last two days have seen continued activity in the box with more feathers arriving, although wet weather has slowed things down now. I am in the process of setting up a second camera that will concentrate on the nest cup. The image from this camera will appear from time to time on the webcam, as it did for a while this afternoon. Here is the sort of image that can be expected from this new camera position. Switching between cameras has to be done manually down in my shed.



6 April - Deliveries of moss etc continued through the day, although there does not seem to be any sense of urgency about the process. Visits are well spaced out and she never stays in the box long, often in and out within the 20 second interval between webcam grabs. A comparison with images from last year suggest that another centimetre depth is likely before she is finished.

One curious observation seen a number of times over the weeks is that she will occasionally remove bits of straw or moss from the nest and eject them out of the entrance.
I watched this evening as she threw out a bigger bit of moss than she had just taken in!

7 April - A greater frequency of visits today, with the blue tit spending a relatively long time resting in the box this evening while we had a rain shower.
I will not be adding updates to the diary for the next 8 - 10 days, although the webcam should continue with the support of my sons! I will be relying on the camera myself to watch progress in the box. Will I miss the start of egg laying?

13 April - It was on this day that the blue tit family had its first egg last year.

Over the last week I have had a couple of chances to test out the webcam from a distance. It has shown that in our absence the female has been busy lining the nest with softer bedding.

I am still away from home but I have been able to capture an image of her activity in the box - it shows quite a difference to a week ago.

At 7.45pm she was not in the nest and I could see no sign of eggs.

15 April - No sign of eggs and the nest is still empty at night. These two images show that there has been some activity over the last two days, although there has been very little added.


16 April - Back home today! I have seen the female take feathers into the nest several times this afternoon so progress is still being made.
In the evening she spent a short time settling down in the nest, just long enough to give us hope that this would be her first night in the box - then she left!

17 April - Sunshine and breezy conditions obviously helped to dry things out today, the blue tit visited the nest frequently bringing feathers moss and other soft bits and pieces.
This evening she entered the box at about 7.15pm and settled into the cup again. This time she stayed for nearly 30 minutes before leaving. She returned five minutes later for a brief visit before disappearing again.
It seems as though she is very close to spending her first night in the box, but we are not quite there yet!



18 April - A colder day today, much less sunshine and even some sleet this afternoon. As a result visits to the box have been less frequent. Just as on the last two days. the female spent some time settling down in the box some time after 7pm. While she was in there the male was perched in the birch tree, singing almost continuously. Soon after he left the tree she left the box.

With the possibility of the female moving in at any time I thought that I had better get a colour photograph of the nest.

The details in the picture on the left are a bit difficult to make out. In the 'slice' of nest shown on the right it is possible to see that the bulk of the nest is made up of quite coarse straw and moss. In contrast, the top of the nest is now covered with fine strands of plant material and feathers.

To give you an idea of scale, the box opening is about 16.5cm above the base. It continues to amaze me how much time and effort has been put into the process so far.

19 April - Today has been a repeat of yesterday with cold, mainly dry weather and only infrequent visits to the box. The day ended again with a prolonged visit, with her apparently settling for the night before suddenly leaving after some 20 minutes.

20 April - Again, a cold day saw little activity in the nest other than in the first part of the morning.

The evening brought the usual(?) extended visit after 7.15pm while the male sang nearby. After settling down and looking very comfortable in the nest cup for about 20 minutes she left the box and followed the male away from the garden.

21 April - The day saw a number of visits, mostly in the morning during which only small amounts of nesting material was brought in. Most of the visits seem to have been inspection visits. She would enter the box, usually settle briefly in the nest cup, do a bit of rearranging and then leave. At 7.07pm she entered the box and immediately settled down somewhat restlessly. After about 10 minutes she left the box briefly before returning to spend another 27 minutes snuggled down in the nest cup, only to leave abruptly at about 7.45pm.

22 April - Only a few short visits to the box were seen through the day today, although a blue tit made frequent visits to the birch tree adjacent to the box and spent quite some time in the tree. Then, at 6.50pm the female(?) entered the box, settled down in the nest cup, and at 8.40pm she is still there. It looks as though she has decided that the time has come to move in!

I have decided to try a different method of excluding starlings from the mealworm feeder. The result can be seen here. The hanging basket is attached to the plywood disc with thick garden wire. The openings in the top half of the basket have been made smaller using thin garden wire. I shall have to wait and see how the starlings (and the blue tits) react in the days to come.

EGG LAYING HAS BEGUN - and I missed it!!!!! This evening I reorganised my camera connections so that I can video both camera feeds from the box. This means that I now have both views available simultaneously to me in my house. Imaging my horror when in the close-up image I saw the blue tit adjust its position to reveal a glimpse of an egg. A bit later she moved again to uncover a second one. There had been no sign of them during the day.

I had set a video recorder to record the wide view of the box from 5am (before dawn) until 9am this morning, just to check that it would work for when she moved in. I have just gone through that video and found that she entered the box at 5.55am, settled down in the nest and then laid an egg at 6.09am. She then rested until 6.20am when she left after first covering the egg.

I made the mistake of expecting her to follow last year's pattern and be resident in the box before egg laying started. Tonight I am going to set up early morning recording of both camera views and hopefully have some images to start the next chapter of this diary, all be it a little late!

 Yr.2001 BT Diary Intro
........Incubating the Eggs