The Bird Box Diary
December 2002/January 2003
27 December 2002 - An introduction.
By the end of December in 2001 the box was being visited daily by a couple of Blue Tits. Although there have been up to six Blue tits in the neighbourhood recently, there have been no sign of visitors in the box up to 27 December 2002. They are frequently in the Birch tree adjacent to the box and I am monitoring daytime activity whenever I can.
There has been no sign of visits or roosting in the box since the last family fledged back in June.
Today the weather is bright and sunny with just thin high cloud, and it has brought hope to the box in the form of a pair of Blue Tits that have spent several hours nearby, with this one entering the box repeatedly and spending quite a bit of time in there.
She (?) has thoroughly investigated every corner of the box and spends a lot of time looking at the glass. While she is in the box her partner can usually be spotted in the Birch tree just by the box and has gone to the entrance just once so far (that I have seen).
This visit seems to right on schedule, almost to the day, when I look back at the diaries for the last two years. In each case, Blue Tits started visiting before the end of December.
By early afternoon there was more cloud and with the sun having moved round towards the West the box was in the shade. Since 1pm there have been not been any more visits.
After reviewing the videotapes I need to add an update and correction to my earlier notes. The female made some 38 visits between about 9.30am and 1.20pm.
Shortly after 1pm the (slightly smaller) male entered the box briefly. Picture 1 shows him as he responded, beak open, to the arrival of the female outside. You can see the eye stripe that is bolder than that of his partner. Also, the B/W camera image shows his blue plumage to be slightly darker.
Pic 2 shows him flattening his body as the female enters. The next moment happened too fast for the camera as he left the box (pic 3) leaving the female to survey the box alone (pic4). There was no aggression seen between them. It was the middle of January before I observed this behaviour last Winter. Tonight the box is empty.
A final note for the day, with a big correction to make. Tonight one of my sons informed me that he saw a Blue Tit in the box yesterday while I was out. The video was not recording so I missed it!
29 December - Today's blurred image marks the nearest the box got to a visit this morning.
The Blue Tit spent a couple of minutes going back and forth between the Birch tree (when her partner waited) and the box but the picture captures the only moment when she put her head inside the entrance.
The weather hasn't helped today. It is dull, and wet. The temperature outside is 12C at 1pm.
30 December - On a thoroughly wet and miserable morning the visits have continued with the female spending prolonged periods perched in the entrance looking out while her partner perches in the Birch tree.
This picture shows a moment when he came to the entrance at around 9.40am. I don't think he has been in the box, but I will check the videos again later.
Just a note about the picture - at the moment the camera is mounted sideways (and so is the tv!) to fit the shape of the box better. The slightly darker band you can see across the top of the image is caused by a neutral density filter, clamped in front of the camera to reduce the light levels caused by the daylight entering the box.
31 December - The weather stayed dry but very gloomy this morning and colder than the last few days (6C at 1pm).
Activity in the box started aout 8.30am and the last visit seen was at 1.40pm. Two events are worth noting today. Firstly, during one of her visits yesterday, the female brought in a bit of plant debris, either on her foot or her plumage. The debris remained in the box overnight, but in one of her first visits this morning she removed it from the box.
Around 10am another Blue Tit pair turned up in the Birch tree while the box was occupied. As I tried to watch both the TV screen and the outside of the box through bino's the 'resident' female displayed aggressively inside the box at one of the intruders while the male, who had (as usual) been perched just outside, started to chase them away.
A couple of minutes later our female (I think) was back in the box and everything seemed to be back to normal.
January 1 2003 - The garden was thoroughly soaked this morning as we entered a new year, and bird activity was intermittent.
This sequence records the first visit at about 9.50am when it was the male who was first to approach the box. He spent some time at the entrance (pic 1), alternatively looking in and then scanning the outside for a minute or so before finally entering (pic 2). There was no searching for food, he just stood in the middle, looking around.
Then the female arrived at the entrance and he went into a crouched, submissive posture (pic 3). The female waited outside until her partner left, and entered as soon as he was out (pic 4).
He flew to a nearby branch for a few moments before returning to the entrance (pic 5). Notice how she does not crouch or display. In fact she seemed to completely ignore his presence as she continued to look around the box - very different to her behaviour yesterday when a 'stranger' looked in.
During the rest of the very wet morning there were only five other visits, all by the female, with the last one at about 1.30pm. As usual, there is no sign of them using the box for roosting.
2 January - Another very wet morning, although the rain had stopped before lunchtime.
This morning only the female visited the nestbox. She first came around 9.15am and then eight more times before her last visit at 11.40am. During her first visit she spent some time looking out and calling at the entrance.
The visits were usually quite short, no more than 2 minutes, but one (at 10.30am) was a bit longer. During this one she seemed very nervous and frequently went to the entrance to look out. A couple of times she spread her wings and tail as though defending the box. There was nothing outside, not even her partner. He was around first thing this morning but had disappeared by this time.
3 January - For a change it has been a dry, bright day with quite a bit of sunshine.
No pictures today, but visits have continued throughout the morning, starting at around 9am and the last one at just after 12.40pm. The female was in the box five times during that period, and the male entered once, triggering a sequence similar to that pictured on 1 Jan. That was the only time I definitely saw the male at the box, bright light making it difficult to be sure which of the birds it was when they just perched outside the entrance, as happened nine times.
4 January - On a cold, mainly sunny day there have been quite a few visits to the box. Only the female has been inside and I saw the male at the entrance once, just after 1pm.
His arrival caused the female to display in a way that showed no agression at all. The sequence of images shows her as she spread her drooped wings and swayed from side to side - her tail was not fanned out and the movements were relatively slow compared with her defensive displays earlier in the week. Her head was held high and she called with a quiet, squeeky sound.
If you look at the larger version of the images you will be able to make out the bold markings of the male's bib and collar against the bright light.
The last visit to the box was at around 2pm.
5 January - On a bright, sunny and cold day (max about 2C) the female has continued to visit throughout the morning between 9am and, finally at 1.50pm. During most visits to the box she spends some time at the entrance, looking out. There was no sign of the male at the box today.
6 January - As yesterday, only the female seen in the box, with the first and last visits at 8.45am and 1.45pm.
7 January - Just a brief note this morning to answer a couple of questions from Anne in North Carolina (sorry, I tried to e-mail you but your address failed and the mail was bounced back to me).
Although the Blue Tits have started regular morning visits to the box, I would not expect to see serious nesting begin until March, although over the last three years since I have been monitoring the box, the birds do seem to start bringing in bits as early as the middle of January.
I cannot be certain that all the visits are by the same birds, but there does seem to be one pair that are spending a lot of time in the garden and when I am watching from the house it is these that I see most by the box.
As for telling the difference between the sexes - I have tried to show in the picture so far how the male's black neck band, eye band and bib appear bolder than those of the female. Also, his blue plumage appears slightly darker on the B/W images from the cctv camera. In colour it appears to be a slightly deeper, brighter shade of blue.
On a bright, sunny and cold morning, with a just a sprinkling of snow on the frozen ponds, the first visit to the box entrance was at 9.10am.
I did see a couple of visits being made this morning, but I think the birds were more interested in food in the cold weather. The picture shows a male Blue Tit in the Hawthorn just before he collected a sunflower heart from a feeder by the house.
9 January - I checked the videos for yesterday and they confirm that there were just two visits to the box by the female. Today, on a bright, sunny day there have been more - up to 11am, in addition to several visits to the entrance, the female had been in the box four times. There were four more visits into the box, the last being at 1.30pm.
The first entry to the box this morning was by the male at 8.45am (pic 1 in the sequence shown here). He went straight to the corner (pic 2) and when, a few seconds later, the female appeared at the entrance he crouched down (pic 3).
As she entered he looked at her (pic 4) and flew quickly up to the top left front corner (pic 5). As she landed he made a dash for the exit too fast for the camera to record clearly (pic 6).
Again, there was no sign of aggression between the pair.
10 January - Just a short note to record that today only the female was seen in the box, entering it ten times between 8.45am and 3.50pm, the latest visit so far.
13 January - Over the last few days visits have continued, but I have not been able to get round to look through the videos to pick out any special events.
Around 1pm the female was in the box (pic 1) when a small group of House Sparrows assembled in the birch tree. She went into defensive mode straight away, spreading her tail and holding her wings out behind her (pics 2 and 3), swaying from side to side as she did so.
Several times she would fly up to the entrance, maintaining her flared tail and wings when there (pics 4 and 5). Although I could see her beak open several times she did not seem to call at all (pic 6). However, she made a great deal of noise as her wings vibrated rapidly. If you look at the larger version of these images, in pic 7 you may just make out an object just to the right of her head - this is a Sparrow that approached the entrance as she flew up. It left very quickly and, as I watched through bino's so did the rest of the group.
This sequence shows what happened when the male entered the box at about 9.40am (left pic). Moments later the female appeared at the entrance and he crouched, beak open, but silent (centre pic). Then, as his partner entered he flew up but, perhaps in an effort to avoid a collision he missed the exit, dropping down to make an undignified landing on top of the female (right pic). Her only response was to do nothing as he tried again to fly to the exit and leave.
As before, the microphone did not pick up any calls from either bird during the encounter.
Having said that, as I write this the male has just been in again (at 10.10am), making quiet calls as he first pecked at the entrance and then entered. There were a couple more chirps when the female appeared at the entrance. This time he left before she entered. She just moved to the side of the opening as he flew out.
16 January - Today it has been almost Spring-like, with bird song all round and the female in and out of the box all day. In fact, as I write this at 4.35pm She has just left the box after yet another visit. (At 5pm there have been no further visits and it is now dark)
The picture shows her at lunchtime when she had been bothered by Sparrows again. As I watched from the house she became agitated when a group landed in the Birch tree. I was fascinated to see that the only time that a Sparrow approached the box was when the BT female was actually looking out. It was almost as though they were teasing her. I tried to get close enough to take a photograph of the proceedings but, unfortunately the Sparrows withdrew as I got nearer.
The picture shows the female as she was looking round, seemingly checking the Birch before re-entering the box.
Sadly, the very person to give an explanation of the sparrows' behaviour, Chris Mead, is no longer with us. I see from the uk.rec.birdwatching newsgroup that he passed away last night. My only encounters with Chris have been on that group where he was always willing to share his extensive expertise in bird matters with novices like myself. He will be sorely missed by those who have an interest in birds in the UK, and he birds have lost a good friend. My sympathy to his family and friends.
For more about Chris go to http://www.bto.org/
17 January - Back to dull weather again today and visits to the box were retricted to the morning.
The female visited the box numerous times, but I only saw the male in the box once, crouching as usual when his partner came to the entrance. On this occasion he left before she entered. Later in the morning he did come to the entrance while the female was inside but made no attempt to enter.
She was bothered again by the Sparrows in the late morning. I watched through binos as five of them gathered in the Birch tree. The Blue Tit went to the entrance, tailed splayed a couple of times and it seemed as though it was at these times then a Sparrow (male, I think) would fly at the entrance.
The picture shows when one of them peeped in while our BT was on the floor of the box (You may just make out its black bib). She was obviously caught by surprise and, in a blur, flew up to the entrance.
As I watched, she looked out and a male Sparrow flew at her. She launched herself from the entrance and chased it up into the Leylandii. I wondered if any of the other Sparrows would take advantage of her absence, but they simply flew off, back into the Ivy tree.
Eight more uneventful visits followed before 2pm and then when she arrived the gang of Sparrows decided to pester her again. She had to defend against them several times in the next ten minutes. As I observed before, they did not seem interested in the box when it was empty, and seemed to make a point of flying at the entrance when she appeared at it. On one occasion she came face to face with a Sparrow, and the sequence shows her reaction to it.
After everything quietened down and the Sparrows had gone she left the box, returning for four more visits before 3pm.
There was no sign of the male at the box today, although a Blue Tit call (it sounded like a male) could be heard on the video recording a couple of times while the female was in the box.
20 January - It has been a thoroughly miserable day today, with periods of heavy, sometimes horizontal rain and strong gusts of wind tearing leaves off the Ivy. Despite the conditions, visits to the box continued this morning.
The sequence shows the appearance of the male in the box just after 11am (pic1). Moments after his arrival the female arrived, making a quick chirp just before appearing (pic 2). Her arrival in the entrance caused the male to crouch, beak open but silent, and facing away from the entrance as she entered (pic 3,4).
This time he waited until she had landed (pic 5) before making a rapid exit (pic 6), leaving the female to check the box (pic 7) before leaving about a minute later.
There was no sign of the Sparrows near the box today although there were lots of them in the Ivy tree, keeping up a very high level of chirping all day!
21 January - Today was another dull day, damp but not wet and windy like yesterday.
The female's visits to the box started at 8.50am and were frequent throughout the morning 16 times in the box and several times at the entrance before 1pm. In the afternoon there were a further 8 visits, with four short periods in the box with the last one at 4.15pm. Normally a visit lasts less than a minute but there were two of about three minutes.
The male made two appearances at the box today, both during the morning and each time it just looked in as the box was already occupied. The picture shows his first visit at 9.45am. Although the female was surprised by his arrival she didn't respond in a drastic way. There was a bit of chirping heard but I could not decide which bird was responsible.
22 January - A much brighter start to the day has seen another session of BT-bothering by sparrows. I just managed to grab this image before I was stopped and they left. I have now organised a hide under the end of our caravan cover that gives me a better view of the box, so I hope to get some better pictures next time they decide to be pests!
Between 8.45am and 10.30am there seem to have been quite a few BT visits to the box although now (11am) things have quietened down.
Here is the female that seems to have taken posession of the box, perched in the Birch tree having just left the box after yet another inspection this morning.
24 January - The last two days have followed the familiar pattern. Starting around 9am, there are frequent visits through until about 1pm and then fewer visits as the afternoon progresses.
The sequence shows what is becoming a daily ritual on the part of the Sparrows, happening just once or twice each day. Here, a male sparrow flies up to the entrance (pic1) and is greeted by a Blue Tit that looks as though it is full flight (pic2).
The Sparrow takes rapid flight (pic3) and the Blue tit emerges from the box and takes up position outside the entrance (pics3,4) where she spends sometime surveying the Birch tree and its surroundings while still able to dash back inside if necessary.
The male Blue Tit seemed to have been around more today, going to the entrance a number of times and going in at least twice (I haven't reviewed all the video today).
26 January - Visits to the box, and a bit of daily Sparrow problem have continued through the weekend.
I have just bought a Colour CCTV camera on E-Bay and I shall be testing it in the box as soon as it is delivered.
27 January - Today may have been a bit disrupted for the Blue Tits because I was out in the garden a lot today, doing various jobs, including repairing a fence near the box.
However, this morning there was still quite a bit of activity around the box. The first to arrive was the male, at 8.25am. He did not enter the box, but spent some time vigorously pecking at the wood around the entrance. The female first appeared at 8.50am and spent about four minutes in the box.
During the rest of the morning she only entered the box three more times. Then a couple of short visits after (my) lunchtime culminated with a stay in the box of over ten minutes, during which time she settled in the back right corner of the box, fluffed up her feathers and rested.
At the end of this period she shook herself, moved to the centre of the box, and then stretched out her tail feathers followed by her wings. That done, she headed for the exit and that was the last time she visited the box today.
Getting a photograph of the male continues to be a problem. He tends to move around too much and rarely stays in view of my vantage point for long enough for me to react quickly enough.
Today He stayed put for a bit longer as he perched in the Birch tree and called for the absent female. Unfortunately he had his back to me except for this brief moment when he turned to leave.
If you look back at the female, pictured on the 22nd, you can see how his eye stripe is wider and bolder. Also, the blue patch on top of his head is darker. He also seems to have a distinguishing mark on his left 'cheek' which also shows up on the black/white images.
28 January - This morning again started with the male pecking at the wood around the entrance at around 8.33am.
The female visited for the first time at 8.50am and then there were twenty more visits before the last at 2.25pm. The early end was probably because we had heavy rain in the early afternoon.
Around 10am the Sparrows caused problems again, on and off for about 15 minutes. The picture shows the female stretch to make herself as tall as possible. Although the still image does not show it clearly she is balancing on the tips of her claws!
29 January - Just a short note today. The female was first to visit this morning at just after 9am, and was in the box once again before the male arrived at 9.40am. Again, he spent a bit of time pecking at the entrance before entering the box, chirping as he did so. The female arrived almost straight away and after a pause in which he squatted down low (see previous entries) he left.
The female went into the box a further 15 times, the last being at just before 3pm and the male was seen at the entrance just once. There was no problem with the Sparrows today.
30 January - I've not had a chance to go through the videos today, but it seemed like business as usual, despite the snow. I saw the male in the box around 10.30am and a little bit later there was defensive displaying by the female as a couple of Sparrows buzzed the box again.
31 January - Business as usual today. I hope to go through the videos later this evening.