The 2009 Nestbox Diary

April (part 5)

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26 April -  since hatching: 2-3 days Starlings; 1 day Great Tits

A bright morning, but a troubling one in the nest boxes.

The Great Tit nest with two unhatched eggs this morning


At 11am I can confirm that there are still two eggs left still to hatch in the Great Tit nest.

However, at the same time I can only count six chicks. I need to look back over the morning's recordings to check on this.



The female Starling sits, but with a dead chick at the box entrance


In the Starling box things are far from well.

Look at this image and you may think that all is well, with mum keeping the chicks warm on a cool morning, but look just below the entrance and you may just make out the lifeless body of a chick.



Then, as the parent leaves you can see that there are just two live chicks left in the nest cup, along with the egg that has failed, so a second chick must also have died.

Since the day before yesterday I don't think I've seen the male Starling more than a couple of times, and I suspect that he may have abandoned the family, something I've seen happen before. The demise of the chicks could well be related to the resulting lack of feeds.


At the end of the day the situation in the two boxes was unchanged, so it looks as though both broods are getting off to a less than promising start. After the complete failure of the Robins' clutch this is not turning out to be a good nesting season.

Great Tit chicks this afternoon


Under the circumstances, and with the Great Tit female spending a lot of time sitting, I only made one brief visit to the box today, so there are only a couple of photographs.

I just hope that there is enough food coming into the box. What I have seen today has been very small. While I've been watching I haven't seen any decent sized caterpillars brought in.




27 April - since hatching: 3-4 days Starlings; 2 days Great Tits

It's a wet day outside and the news isn't much better from inside the boxes. While it looks as though there are still six chicks surviving in the Great Tit box (the last two eggs have failed) in the Starling box there is now only one chick left alive - as I write this at approaching 10am the mother is continuing to spend time sitting.

Only one Starling chick survives this morning

In this picture you can see the very small size that is typical of the food being brought in, both by the Starling and Great Tit parents - not a good sign.

Looking back at the recordings I discover that during much of the night the female was absent from the nest. She had been restless since well before midnight and left the box at 1.15am. She did not return until 5.38am, nearly an hour after the dawn chorus started, by which time I think the chick had died.


Overnight temperatures dipped to 5C so it was lucky that one survived until morning. That last chick also made through today but I can only wonder what will happen tonight.

In the Great Tit box, at the start of the day (6am) I could see six chicks moving about, sharing the nest cup with the two eggs.

Great Tit female removes broken shell



At 1.35pm the female removed one of those shells. It certainly didn't have the appearance of a shell from which a chick had emerged, and


Great Tit female with five surviving chicks



as the afternoon progressed I could only see five chicks active in the nest. I have to be cautious about the count as chicks can often be hidden under the overhanging sides of the nest cup.


Great Tit male brings food


In stark contrast to the situation in the Starling box, throughout the day both parents have been bringing food in, although as I said earlier much of what I have seen has been very small. I have seen no green caterpillars brought in yet.


Great Tit female removes body of dead chick



At 8pm, one of the last acts of the female before she settled in for the night was to remove the body of a dead chick,


The five surviving Great Tit chicks this evening



and when she left it gave me a chance to take a last look at the surviving members of the clutch before she returned to sit on them overnight.


The Great Tit chicks this evening



Under today's circumstances I only made one visit to the Great Tit box today, in the early evening when the rain had moved away,  and I took just a few photographs, stopping when the mum returned.

As if to emphasise my concerns about what the parents are feeding to the chicks  she actually returned without food.




28 April - since hatching: 4-5 days Starlings; 3 days Great Tits

A brighter morning outside, and in the boxes all the chicks that made it through yesterday survived the night. However, I'm afraid that by the end of the day it seem that we have lost another Great Tit chick as I can only see four this evening.

Going through the day's recording reveals that before 8am all five chicks were moving about. However, by 8.30am one was remaining quite still, but obviously still breathing. When the mother left at around 9.20am that chick seems to have stopped breathing.

Great Tit female removes another dead chick



It was 2pm before the mother removed its body from the nest.




Although the weather has been better today (just a few spots of rain this afternoon) it is still been rather cool with a high if 12C. With the birds obviously under stress I again only visited the box once today, taking care not to disturb either adult.

The Great Tit chicks after 2-3 days



We are already starting to see the development of the feather tracts, in the main still appearing as dark marks beneath the skin.


The Great Tit chicks showing early development of wing feathers



The more advanced feather development on the wing suggests that this chick must be one of the 'older' members of the clutch.


The Great Tit chick - close-up showing closed eye




And of course, at this stage their eyes are firmly closed.



The last surviving Starling chick with female adult



Up in the Starling box the 'single mum' has brought in enough food to keep the surviving chick going for another day.

In this image you can see its triangular tongue.




29 April - since hatching: 5-6 days Starlings; 4 days Great Tits

A cloudless morning and as it approaches 9am it seems that we still have four Great Tit chicks and one Starling chick...

The surviving Starling chick almost hidden by bamboo leaves


and it has remained that way all day, although a look at the webcam may have suggested otherwise for much of the time as the chick was often hidden by an untidy cover of bamboo leaves!



One of the Great Tit chicks this evening


On my one visit to the Great Tit box today the chicks were inactive, so there is just one picture of them.

It shows an appreciable amount of change over the last 24 hours as the feathers continue their development.




30 April - since hatching: 6-7 days Starlings; 5 days Great Tits

The surviving chicks seem to be doing well. Today has been grey with just a touch of dampness from time to time, and the temperature didn't get above 14C. Nevertheless, the chicks are being fed, and I'm seeing more large larvae going into the Great Tit box, and some small green caterpillars.

Starling chick hidden under bamboo leaves

As was the case yesterday, for much of the day a look at the webcam would have suggested that there wasn't even the single chick in the Starling box.

The mother has continued to bring in mainly bamboo leaves and the chick is usually completely hidden while alone in the box, its presence only revealed when mum returns. It seems that the mother has taken steps to protect her last remaining chick.


Great Tit cctv image with chicks hidden from viewThe situation has been mirrored to a certain extent in the Great Tit box. In this image the nest cup appears half empty as a couple of the chicks have done a disappearing act under the side of the nest cup nearest the entrance. In this position it would be impossible to see them at all from the entrance.

Having said that, the chicks are constantly on the move and all four are often visible.

The Great Tit chicks at 5pm



Again, I have restricted myself to just one visit today, but the next few pictures do give a good idea of the progress they are making.




After that first picture there was a slight rearrangement in the nest, enough to give a clear side view of one chick.


A Great Tit chick at 5pm - side view (cropped image)



This cropped image shows more clearly how light feathers of the bird's breast are developing. And you can begin to see the curved line of feathers that develop over the top of it ear.


A Great Tit chick at 5pm - detail of wing development


In this picture you can see some more detail of the developing wing feathers.

To start with, each feather starts from a tiny papilla, but as it develops it pushes out, enclosed in a sheath. This is starting to happen here.

A Great Tit chick at 5pm - detail of eye development and mouth




A chick stretching up for food shows how its eye opening is becoming much more pronounced - we should see their eyes opening in the next two days.




Finally, having been present for several minutes while the mother was in the box I decided to try a picture when her partner came in.

The Great Tit parents look into the nest cup

On this occasion I let him feed a chick first before capturing this first picture of both parents - the male is on the right. I was pleased to see that neither bird reacted adversely to the flash and the sound of the camera.

I'll need a different lens arrangement to include more of them!


Composite cctv image showing a Starling visiting box L


This evening, after the female appeared to be settling down for the night after 8pm, a second adult appeared in box L.

After a short time both birds left, although the mother returned to her chick by 8.24pm. The other bird did not return.


Composite cctv image showing Blue Tit in House Martin nest 2


I'm still not seeing and House Martins and Swifts at low levels over the neighbourhood.

In the meantime, tonight the Blue Tit has decided to roost House Martin nest 2 instead of nest 3.


- Click on the images to see larger versions -

2009 Nestbox Diary Index...........Start of the Year..........  ..May - part 1