The Bird Box Diary
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The picture shows dad as he guts a mealworm. He had spotted that I had put some for the robin and went to the dish instead of the feeder.
Yesterday, in all the times I watched the box as the chicks wandered, I could only count seven of them. The nest cup is deep and over half of it is hidden from my view, but it does look as though we may have lost a couple of chicks over the last week, which would be disappointing.
Today's nest box pictures were all taken this evening, and the first shows dad delivering a mealworm while mum has submerged herself in the depths of the nest cup.
I couldn't resist this portrait of mum. I know it's a case of anthropomorphism, but I cannot help thinking about how tired she looks.
18 May - First, a feeding picture, another small green caterpillar being delivered. Comparing it with a similar picture taken just three days ago give an idea of the speed at which they have been developing their plumage.
This is a rather blurred image of one chick exercising its wings at very high speed. A careful look at the wings at the end if its right wings reveals that they have still got some growing to do yet.
An image to show how well the adults fit in the entrance! It's a pity that the caterpillar was not in focus - she was moving too fast for my reaction times!
I have been outside doing some woodwork today and I had moved the dish of mealworms near to me to give the Robin more exclusive access to them - so I thought. The Blue Tits discovered them and, although the dish was just less than 2 yards from my workbench they were back and forth all afternoon. I had to check the dish every time I wanted to swing a bit of timber!
The poor Robin, despite a reputation for being aggressive, had to give way every time one of the Blue Tits arrived.
I should point out that the bright spot in the top right corner of the webcam is a reflection of the Infra-red light source, and not a visible light.
19 May - The feeding goes on with just a few pauses throughout the day as the chicks gradually take on the comletely feathered look that we expect. The only glimpses of bare skin come when a wing is stretched or the head is twisted round as the chick preens.
Close-up of the day is this chick during a quiet moment in the corner of the box. Notice how the breast feathers are becoming the characteristic yellow colour, although there is little sign as yet of the bright blues of the adults.
I have included this picture of the parents (mum on the right) and one chick to give some idea of how much growing the chicks still have to do to catch up with their parents. As for the rest of the family - one is hidden in the back right hand corner and the others are down in the nest cup. In this picture the tail and wing feathers are showing the first signs of blue colouring.
Over the last few nights it has become increasingly difficult for mum to get any sleep, and tonight the chicks are alone in the box, but there is no cause for concern.
This seems to be a normal stage in the progress towards fledging. Last year mum did the same thing six nights before the chicks left, and in 2000 it was five nights.
20 May - This morning it was business as usual after the first food delivery by dad at 4.54am. By the time mum appeared at 5.16am he had made another twelve visits.
By 8am dad had brought food to the box 92 times and mum 40 times. Feeding tends to come in bursts of activity, sometimes with pauses of up to 8-9 minutes.
The fact that they turned up in the box wet, suggests that between 7 and 8am both parents took time off to bathe (it's a dull, dry morning).
I have been busy with some woodwork during the day and I wasn't able to take any colour photographs until this evening. Again, as I worked both parents were eager to take mealworms from the dish next to my workbench.
It's worth comparing this picture with a similar one taken three days ago that also shows the wings and tail feathers.
I always seem to miss those moments when the chicks exercise their wings, and I nearly missed this one. It is one time when the digital camera's shutter delay does not help.
This evening at 8.36pm it has started raining for the first time today, and the chicks are alone. The last visit by either parent was about 15 minutes ago. As it gets dark the some of the chicks are busy preening themselves.
The weather forecast for the rest of the week is not at all promising. It seems that an 'unseasonably' low pressure system is heading for the UK just in time for the chicks fledging.
When my video started recording at 4am the chicks were already restless with some preening going on, although they were still in the nest cup. At 4.38am a call from outside caused them to open their beaks wide as dad brought in the first food - by 5am he had been back in 12 more times. Through the rest of the morning, up to noon he brought food to the chicks 209 times.
The first picture shows him making a mealworm delivery much later in the day. The second picture also shows him in a bit more detail.
Mum made her first appearance at 5.25am and up to noon she brought in food 139 times. A bit of nest cup tidying was done on a few of the visits, but she spends very little time in the nest now.
As mum spent one of those periods in the nest some of the chicks stayed out of the way in the corner. One of them tested it's wings at great speed, causing mum to pop up out of the nest cup as the flash went off.
Tonight the chicks are alone again and very restless in the nest cup. At least they are sheltered from the rain. Hopefully, so are their parents. One interesting observation about them as they try to snuggle down is that every so often one of them will call out a warning call, just like the mother did when she thought the box was threatened by something such as a sparrow. Perhaps it's a sign of a growing frustration with having to share space so closely.
With the weather prospects being so bleak, I have made sure that the mealworm feeder is well stocked for the morning.
22 May - The weather is a bit unsettled this morning, with occasional moments of sunshine but lots of threatening clouds. It is quite breezy, but there has been only a little rain so far. The chicks show no inclination yet to head for the door. The times when they look that way are inevitably as they wait for the next food delivery to arrive.
A number of people have e-mailed me over the last few days about the number of chicks. The position of the nest cup this year has meant that they are often hidden from the camera(s) by the bank of straw against the glass. This webcam image from this morning shows all seven of them (just about).
Usually there is at least one chick out of sight.
The chicks have periods of great activity, with lots of preening and wing testing going on, but there are periods when they all retire to the nest cup and things quieten down for a while.
On some visits to the box the parents have been passing the food to a chick from the entrance itself. I haven't managed to capture the moment, but in this shot mum (top) has just fed the chick below her and dad (at the back) is in the process of removing the food from the chick's mouth!
It's funny to watch how the parent gives a chick just moments to swallow the food before taking it back and trying another open mouth, even at this stage.
Today, when food is brought in and not immediately put into a mouth, I have seen the chicks vibrating their wings as they beg for the food. In this image you can just make out the blurred wing of the right hand chick.
This is the behaviour is seen as fledglings in the garden chase their parents in the hope of being fed.
In the later part of the afternoon the chicks have been very agitated and since I have been by the computer (after 5pm) I have seen one chick making efforts to look of the entrance. This webcam image shows how it has climbed up the front of the box, using scratches across the wood for a foot hold.
The next two mornings will warrant special attention. In 2000 the first chick left the box just before 6.30am. Last year it was 7.17am.
This webcam image captured this evening has given an all too rare clear view of the seven surviving chicks as dad feeds one of them
At the moment, the weather forecast for the next two days is not quite as dire as suggested. The garden has good shelter from strong winds (as long as the birds stay low!) and there are only showers forecast rather than prolonged rain.