The 2009 Nestbox Diary

April (part 4)

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22 April - Thank goodness for the time taken for incubation! Problems have queued up to appear during these last couple of weeks. Not only did my desktop PC decide to give up last week, but for the last couple of days I've also been without use of the laptop. I was beginning to worry that the gap in the diary could extend to hatching. However, after a lot of frustration yesterday and a trip to our local computer store this morning to get a new power supply for the PC, I've got both machines working again. Unfortunately, I had to restore the laptop to its original factory settings so I still need to reinstall numerous bits of software before it will be useable.

On the positive side, both Starlings and Great Tits seem to be preparing for the hatching of their eggs, and often spend time looking at them. Earlier this evening the Starling female seemed to be tapping them and rolling them around with her beak. If my maths is correct there are still three or four days before hatching is due this coming weekend.

The five Starling eggs this afternoon

This afternoon I took advantage of her absence from the box to clean the lens and take this picture of the nest.

The eggs are about 3cm long.

By the time I had taken the ladder down and stowed it under the caravan the female was already sitting on them again.

The nine Great Tit eggs this afternoon


This afternoon I also changed the glass in the Great Tit box and cleared away some of the spider silk from around the rear cctv camera.

The mirror doesn't quite have the clear view into the nest cup that I had hoped for, but today I was able to get this picture that just about includes all nine eggs in the clutch.



23 April - Hatching has begun!

The first two Starling eggs have hatched


More details later, but by 8am this morning the first two Starling chicks have hatched, eleven days after the final egg was laid,


One of the first two Starling chicks is fed



and the mammoth task of finding food for the gaping mouths is under way, balanced with the need to continue the incubation of the remaining eggs.


By 9.30am there were three Starling chicks



A third chick hatched before 9.30am.




The first Starling chick hatches just after 5.30am


The first sign that an egg had hatched this morning came at 5.36am when a piece of shell appeared at the mother's side, but it wasn't until 6.14am that she took some shell out of the box and revealed the first chick.



The second Starling chick hatches just after 7am


While that chick's hatching was hidden from view, the second started to make its appearance while the parent was absent at 7am.

Here, you can see the egg slip open just behind the already hungry chick.


The third Starling chick hatches just before 9.18am


When the parent returned to the box at 9am there were still just two chicks. When she left again at 9.18am she once again took a piece of shell with her, and down in the nest cup the third chick was just emerging from its shell.




One rather amusing observation today -  During the incubation period a bird entering the box would often bring in a small bit of straw. This habit has continued today, overlapping with the delivery of food, and twice I saw the parent offering the straw to the chicks!

After the unexpected excitement of these arrivals it came as a bit of an anticlimax when the last two eggs remained intact for the rest of the day.


24 April - Starling chick #4 hatches -

The first four Starling eggs have hatched


The Starlings' fourth chick hatched at some time before 7.45am (more precise timing once I've checked the recording).

The fifth egg was still intact at 4pm. It is still just twelve days since the last egg was laid so it certainly isn't overdue yet.



The Great Tit continues her incubating on a sunny morning


In the Great Tit box it is incubation as usual to start the day, with the male bringing food in to his partner a couple of times before 8am.

As the glare in the nestbox cctv images indicate (the entrance faces east), it is another bright and sunny morning. It also reminds me that I need to change the glass again!


Two views of the Great Tit continuing her incubatingAnother look at the Great Tit late this afternoon, this time showing her more or less simultaneously from the two camera positions.

While the vertical camera gives a good view, and certainly is needed to look at the eggs and young chicks,  it misses out in some ways, especially as it lacks a sense of depth.

Here for example, only the side view shows clearly how low in the nest cup the female really is.


For the Great Tit it really was a typical incubation day. She was fed twice before leaving the box for the first time at 6.46am. The rest of the day had her sitting on the eggs for a total of 573 minutes in 15 sessions - an average of around 38 minutes for each. The male brought food to her just six times, five in the first part of the morning and the last at 5.37pm. The female retired for the night at 7.08pm.

In contrast to that, the Starling had to divide her time between incubating the fifth egg and providing food for the four chicks. She left her box for the first time at 5.59am and kept going until 7.52pm, her day lasting about 1 hours longer than the Great Tit. In that time she spent a total of around 455 minutes sitting in the nest in 47 sessions - an average of around 9 minutes each. In addition, she brought food in at least 65 times (16 feeds per chick!).

There was an amusing moment in mid-afternoon when she brought in what looked like a grub.

Starling chick gets an unexpected ride

She popped it into the open mouth of a chick. However, the chick not only had hold of the grub but also held onto mum's beak, because when she raised her head the chick had its first experience of flying!

When it let go it fell flat on its back on the rim of the nest cup. The distended abdomen suggests that this chick has had its fair share of the food offered today.

Mum just looked at it for a while before she decided to sit, the chick toppling back into the nest cup as mum settled down.



25 April - Great Tit hatching begins

Newly hatched Great Tit chicks



More details when I get my act together, but at least four of the eggs had hatched by 9am.


A great Tit chick soon after hatching




This one looked as though it had emerged not long before I took the picture, although its shell had already been removed.


CCTV image at noon, showing five chicks hatched




By lunchtime there were five chicks, with no sign of the other four hatching at approaching 1pm.



Needless to say, I'm being very cautious about my picture taking at the moment, and before I include adults in my pictures, over the days to come I will be taking time to allow them to adjust to the sounds (mainly the camera shutter) that they hear when I am present in the box. They shouldn't see me at any time as I'm behind a black screen, wearing a black sweatshirt and black silk gloves and balaclava, but what will catch their attention are reflections from the camera lens, so I need to move that about very slowly.

Great Tit chick showing matted downNow some chick close-ups -


For a short time after hatching the chicks downy tufts are rather matted together,



Great Tit chick showing tufted down




But as they dry, the filaments start to separate out, and you can begin to see their feathery nature.


Great Tit chick showing fuzzy down



Eventually, and no doubt helped by all the moving about, it takes no a fuzzy appearance,



Great Tit chick showing down on head and back


and here you can see that it appears not only on the head but also the chick's back.

These pictures also show the small thumb on what will become the chick's wings.

Great Tit chick showing its gape



One of the most noticeable features of the chick at this stage is the gape, outlined in bright yellow to provide a target for the parents' food deliveries.

For the moment the chick has barely enough strength to hold its head in this position for more than a few moments, so it is useful to have the side of the nest cup to lean against!


Great Tit chick mouth, showing split upper palette and papillae



Looking at the gape from the front, you can see some of the structures inside the roof of its mouth with its split palette  and rows of soft papillae.



Great Tit chick mouth, showing food caught by the triangular tongue



This chick has been left at something of a disadvantage by its parent, unable to swallow the bit of food that has been left half in its mouth. It is prevented from falling back out by the almost barb-like structure of the bony triangular tongue.




There are still four eggs in the Great Tit nest at 2.30pm, and the final egg is still to hatch in the Starling nest.

Great Tit female removes shell at 5pm


By the end of the day six of the Great Tit chicks had hatched, the last one around 5pm.

In the Starling nest it looks as though the final egg isn't going to hatch now. It will be interesting to see how much time the female dedicates to sitting on it as opposed to finding food for the four chicks.



This evening, around 7pm I saw the first Swifts of the year -  just a pair flying high to the south-west of us, and they had disappeared by the time I had collected my camera from indoors. This is just a couple of days earlier than for the last two years, when I first spotted them on the 27th. I wonder how soon I'll see them heading into our neighbours' loft.


- Click on the images to see larger versions -

2009 Nestbox Diary Index...........Start of the Year..........  ..April (part 5)