The Chicks approach fledging - May 2004
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15 May - Fifteen days since the first eggs hatched, and we are now into the last week of their development. The bird guides suggest that their fledging could take place any time from the 16th to the 22 May.
Last night was a pretty restless one for the family, with chicks preening, and mum on and off the chicks like a yo-yo. She left the nest early this morning, at 4.13am, taking a feacal sac with her that had been dumped at the side of the nest earlier in the night.
Feeding started at 5.09am, followed by a whole series of feeds. Some of them (including this first one) seemed to consist of white lumps which look suspiciously like peanut pieces.
These continued to arrive during the day. This delivery took place at 5.43pm, and certainly does look like peanut, although she isn't getting the supply from the feeder in our garden.
Caterpillars are still being brought in, and even though the chicks have grown a great deal, they still seem to struggle with the larger ones!
Between feeds there are quiet periods when the chicks sink back into the nest cup for a rest, but
it isn't long before they spread out again. Here, a particularly adventurous chick has propped itself up against the corner of the box, giving us a chance to see how much it looks like a small Great Tit now.
Notice the characteristic white outer feathers on its tail.
A great deal of preening goes on as the chicks work on their plumage, and sort out their wing feathers. Every so often a chick will suddenly stretch its wings and have a quick flap as it exercises the muscles it will need for flight.
This second image gives a closer view of the same wings fully extended.
The wings are also coming into play at feeding times. I saw them partly extended numerous times today, but in this case the chick seemed to desperately trying to fly to the food that was on offer.
As I write this at 8.50pm mum has just returned to a box full of very noisy chicks that are still asking to be fed.
16 May - Another dry day should mean good hunting for mum, but two events during the night could have had other consequences -
I could see nothing at the entrance, but mum suddenly looked up (pic 2) and disappeared into a blur as she flicked open her wings (pic 3) before settling down over the chicks with tail feathers fanned out (pic 4). Moments later she did this again (pics 5 & 6), and then a third time, staying with tail spread for the next couple of minutes before she seemd to relax and spread her wings down over the chicks (pic 7).
After that moment of worry, things settled down again and it was nearly 5am when mum decided to set out on her first hunting trip of the day.
Some ten minutes later details appeared in the entrance that were decidedly not those of a Great Tit.
First to appear were the whiskers and ear of one of our local cat population that had managed to get onto the roof of the birdbox and was leaning over the front to investigate the sounds coming from within. Next to appear was an eye, followed by the insertion of a paw through the entrance.
Fortunately it got no further than shown here.
The cat must have decided that as its chances of success were limited, it would give up and leave, which was fortunate, as mum arrived with the first meal of the day (a cranefly) a couple of minutes later!
This morning I have been reviewing the defences around the box! - Any cat that tries to get onto the birdbox roof will now need to negotiate a 'bed of nails'. Hopefully that will discourage further intrusions.
Despite the unwelcome paw, we still have a full complement of eight chicks, seven of whom were hungrily begging for this caterpillar - I guess that the eighth, in the bottom right corner, was fed on the last visit.
The chicks have been very noisy through much of the day, but periods of activity alternate with quiet spells like this one, in which all eight are visible once again.
Here, a chick in close-up shows how the plumage now gives the appearance of being almost complete.
There have been quite long spells between some feeds, when an adult arrives the chicks are very likely to ambush them before they have touched down in the box.
Here, the delivery of a spider is greeted with bedlam as several chicks use their wings to try to gain a height advantage over the others.
In this case a 'flying tackle' by one chick ensures at least a taste of the caterpillar being brought in, although it will not be given to a chick until the parent is in the box properly.
A couple of days ago I mentioned that the chicks had started producing faecal sacs even when there was no parent present. Here, the chick on the left is doing just that.
When the mum delivers food she always waits for a short time to see if any of the chicks will produce a sac, and if one is not forth-coming she checks the nest for any before leaving.
To finish for the day, one last image - a close-up of a chick taken this evening.
We are now in the 'fledging zone' but despite the chicks daytime activity, I don't think that there has been enough of the wing stretching and testing to suggest that first flights are imminent.
17 May - A very warm summer's day has seen the first of the chicks leave the nest today. Tonight the rest of the family are still with us, although I wouldn't be surprised if they fledge tomorrow.
After a very peaceful night, this morning started with mum removing a faecal sac at 4.45am. Surprisingly, the chicks stayed very quiet as she left this morning.
Things were very different when she returned with the first food at 5.12am, getting a chaotic greeting even before she entered the box.
Feeding got into high gear, with 68 food items brought in before 7am.
Through the morning the rate varies quite a bit, so at in each hour until noon the figures were 12, 20, 35, 20 and 15, giving a total of 170 feeds.
Mum sometimes spent several minutes in the nest when she brought in food, and in this shot, which turned out to be my last showing all eight chicks, it's a case of spot the mum in the crowd.
I have been concentrating on the chicks in my photographs, but here is a close-up of mum during one visit today.
I have always had difficulty distinguishing between the two parents so I'm not sure, but I don't think the male has been around today.
Anyway, all seemed to be fairly routine as the day progressed. I was at the computer around 3pm, ordering some more mealworms when I noticed one of the chicks testing its wings at the front of the box while mum was in the box. After she left the chick tried again.
It paused for a moment right next to the glass (pic 1) and then launched itself at the entrance (pic 2). After a second try it perched in the hole and looked out (pic 3). It hesitated for some time, looking back (pic 4) at the rest of the brood who seemed totally indifferent to what it was about to do!
At this point I launched myself down the garden, camera in hand to get these pictures of it from outside. I only just made it (which is why the images are a bit blurred) before the chick launched itself ( at 3.07pm) into the bamboo plants where it perched for ages.
Before the eggs were laid I had set up a canvas cover to hide my approach to the box. When I went down to the box a while after seeing the chick in the bamboo I was surprised to come eye-to-eye with it, perched on the string that supports the cover.
I took this picture and retired quietly back to the house.
What did attract my attention was the sound of an adult calling. It was in my neighbour's privet bush and it had a caterpillar in its beak. I watched to see if it went to the box.
It didn't, and the next time I saw it the caterpillar had gone - perhaps given to the youngster?
Tonight the seven remaining chicks are alone in the box, their white neck feathers showing up in this video image. Food delivery rates dropped quite a bit in the afternoon and evening so I guess they will be pretty hungry by the morning. Perhaps this may be a spur for them to follow today's pioneer.
Between noon and 8pm the feeds in each hour were: 11, 12, 9, 12, 11, 6, 8, and 4 (from 7pm to the last feed at 7.34pm)
I wonder whether I will wake up to an empty box tomorrow......
18 May - The chicks were still here this morning, and it was nearly twenty four hours after the first chick left that two more followed, leaving five to watch again tomorrow!
It paused there, looking out into the darkness and then rejoined the rest of the brood.
At 4.47am a sight that had me looking in disbelief when a cat's paw, with claws extended was poked in through the entrance.
What surprised me most was the reaction of the chicks. Instead of going into defensive mode they stretched up, beaks open as though food was arriving!
The paw appeared again a few minutes later. Each time, the action suggested that the cat was not finding it easy to reach the entrance. Nevertheless, this is a problem that I have not experienced before and I will have to solve it before the next nesting season.
Again, the chicks survived the assault and mum was in to feed them at 5.24am.
This picture shows the seven chicks with mum a little bit later in the morning. I didn't take any pictures in the box for the rest of the day.
The chicks were fairly restless all morning. However, mum kept on bringing in food and there seemed to be no interest in leaving the box. It was not until after 2pm that there was an increase in wing testing.
At around 2.50pm one chick looked as though it was getting very impatient. It made several visits to the entrance, and as a second chick also tested its wings, it took to the sky.
It flew about twelve feet to land on my shed roof, where it stayed for just a minute before flying up into my neighbour's birch tree.
The other chick that had been most active in the box was the next to the entrance.
When the decision to leave was made, this one flew directly to my neighbour's large privet bush.
Half an hour later I spotted this one as it flew confidently between branches on the conifers beyond the bottom of the garden.
Compared with these two chicks, the remaining five were quite subdued, and were happy to make lots of noise and be fed for the rest of the afternoon. However, although I didn't attempt to do any counting, it was obvious that the gaps between feeding visits were becoming a lot longer.
Tonight the remaining five (I think!) chicks are huddled together in the nest cup, and tomorrow awaits....
19 May - Nesting in the box is over for another year.
It's strange - you know this day is coming but when it finally happens there is suddenly an empty space which seems far larger than just an empty nest box!
A couple of times it completely disappeared, but the darkening of the box showed that it had in fact gone to the top of the box.
(all the picture sequences should be followed clockwise from top-left)
Just over ten minutes later the recording revealed a third visit on three mornings by a cat! This doesn't seem to be the same individual as previously. This one has a smaller, white paw on a black leg. This time it had a second try after a pause(!), although neither attack lasted for long.
The image of the ear shows that the cat is on the roof, despite all the nails that I put there.
I shall have to completely rethink the anti-cat measures before next year. I know that the box is in a different position this year, but its previous position was probably more accessible, although we didn't have this problem.
When mum turned up with the first food of the day at 5.29am she was quite hesitant before entering - perhaps the cat was still nearby.
The chicks were pretty active continuously, as this picture, taken at 8.15am.
There were numerous test flights around the box, and visits to the entrance, but as 9.24am approached the first of the five chicks made its move towards the world outside.
Here, its departure is captured from both inside and outside the box. With one stop on the shed roof, it made it to my neighbour's Privet bush.
Mum continued to bring food and, as here, several times she had to enter past a chick that was at the entrance.
The departure of the fifth chick took place at 9.48am.
It is a real puzzle as to what triggers the decision to go. I find it hard to identify the moment when I can be sure which one is about to go.
This one headed for my neighbour's Birch tree.
After these first two departures things quietened down for a while, and the next chick didn't head for the exit until 10.28am.
This time all three chicks looked equally ready to go.
This chick set off in a very different direction. It launched itself straight at our Birch, landing directly above me.
A short pause and it was off again, to the other end of the garden to perch in the Hawthorn.
By now visits from mum were few and far between and as here, she was not bringing food.
It was clear that the last two chicks were not going to hang around much longer, and by 10.55am the seventh chick decided to take the plunge.
This one headed for my neighbour's privet, with a short rest on the shed roof.
For a moment it looked as though the last chick was going to follow immediately afterwards, but there was a gap of a few minutes before it finally headed for the exit at 11am.
Once at the entrance, it spent some time looking around,
and before leaving it called out several times.
I'm afraid this little chick wasn't as ready as it could have been. When it took off , despite frantic flapping it flew straight towards me and landed on a roll of wire netting before tumbling to the ground.
Sheila had a newspaper with her so I decided to use that to lift the chick up into a tree. The chick had other ideas and hopped onto my thumb, hung on for a few seconds and then flew to the bamboo plant just behind me.
I grabbed this image and then we went back to the house to leave the bottom of the garden clear for the mother to find this last of her fledglings.
Going back into the house it seemed strangely quiet as the loudspeakers no longer filled the room with the chicks excited chirping, and of course the tv screen showed the empty nest.
The last fledgling was on the ground in the garden for most of the day. By the middle of the afternoon it was still calling and getting more agile, and by 5pm I couldn't see or hear it in the garden - I am optimistic that it was able to make it to cover.
For me, it took the rest of the day to wind down after following the end of the process as it progressed through the morning, which is why this diary entry is only appearing on the 20th.
Over the last couple of weeks the rest of the garden has been increasingly neglected, but while Sheila and I watched events at the box a several other birds caught our attention as they played out their nesting strategies.
Also busy at the other end of her nesting process is this Wood Pigeon who was collecting twigs for a nest it is building in the Conifers.
Finally I must not forget our Collared Dove who was watching me from her nest all morning as I watched the box! I may be able to set up the camera form the box to watch her (from a distance) via the webcam - no promises on that one.
January to March
................. April Nest building................