The 2009 Nestbox Diary

January to March (part 4 - February)

Go to the last entry on this page   .......,,,..  Go to previous entry

1 February - The month is off to a cold start, and the low level of activity in the nest boxes seems to reflect that. There was a pretty constant and very cold easterly wind which gets funnelled down the driveway, right past the Starling boxes. While the Great Tit box faces east, it is fairly protected from the wind by the two birch trees.

There was just a brief 'look in' at the Great Tit box at 9.10am, although I saw both Great Tits frequently during the day when they visited the feeders.

The Starlings were active by 6.50am and left their boxes at 7.16am. The female's first visit wasn't until 8.08am and between then and 9am she only made a few visits to each box. There were no 'double' visits - I didn't see the male visit a box at all this morning. His partner made just two more visits by 10am before the visits stopped.

Just after noon I was surprised to see the female in box L, but it was only a single visit and she didn't reappear until the end of the afternoon.

Starling encounter at roosting time - 1


It was 4.45pm when she re-entered box L for the night.

Shortly after entering she appeared to be leaving. However she had to back away from the entrance as the male came crashing in. Despite her pecks he paused to face her and make a few calls before heading for the camera end of the box.


Starling encounter at roosting time - 2



There followed a brief stand-off before the female turned towards him and lunged.

He got out of the way and headed straight for the exit.


Starling encounter at roosting time - 3


He left straight away, helped on his way with a beck on his rear end, heading straight into box R.

Both birds started preening almost straight away and had their heads tucked under their plumage soon after 5pm.



Just a note at this point about physical differences between the two birds. I've already mentioned about the female having a smaller dark tip to her beak, and marginally larger white flecks on her plumage. But there is another difference which I see on the cctv images, probably thanks to the infra-red lighting. Apart from the light flecks, the male's plumage shows up as darker than that of the female. I think it is possible to see this in today's series of still images, all of which have been processed in the same way.

One of the Starling pair in the garden


I am watching out for an opportunity to photograph both birds under similar lighting conditions when they come into the garden. Today was the first time I've been able to grab a shot of one of them.

This may be the female, but I need to take a number of pictures of both before I can be positive.





2 February - a Short entry today, thanks in the main to today's snow (see garden diary).

There was no activity recorded at the Great Tit box, and only limited activity at the Starlings' boxes.

The Starlings were alert by 6.55am, but didn't leave until 7.28am. Then, the first visit by the female didn't happen until 9.32am when she went into both boxes several times before 9.45am. It was 1.14pm before she appeared next, inspecting both boxes a couple of times before disappearing again.

As the end of the day approached she was in the boxes briefly several times  between 4.10 and 4.26pm. The male arrived in box R to roost at 4.31pm and his partner entered box L a minute later. They were settling down by 4.45pm but I disturbed them by shifting snow off a bin nest to the garden gate and the both left. They stayed away until 5.11pm even though I was only outside for a couple of minutes.



3 February - Another short report, with nothing in the Great Tit box, although this snow is creat6ing lighting conditions that are creating difficulties for the main camera.

In the Starling boxes the pair was alert by 6.57am and out surprisingly early, at 7.05am (there was light snow falling at the time).

The female made her first visit at 7.45am, going into both boxes a number of times before 8am. In the next hour she made just a single visit.

Between 9 - 10am both birds were involved in inspections and they were together in box L for a short time. Unfortunately I accidentally deleted the recording before I could look at the sequence in any detail.

During the rest of the day the female made single visits almost every hour before she returned to roost at 4.45pm. The male entered box R four minutes later and both birds had settled down by 5.20pm.



A Starling perched on a feeder support4 February - On a day when the temperature crept up enough to start a slow thaw I'll start with a single Starling picture that I managed to capture this morning.

It appears to be a different individual to the one shown above, but whether or not it is one of 'our' pair I cannot tell. With the quite large flecks on its wing, could it be the female - I'm not sure if the dark area on its beak is extensive enough.

I have only seen two Starlings in the garden, and there were occasional box visits going on around the time the picture was taken today so there's a good chance it's one of the pair.


Up in the Starling boxes it was nearly a normal, quiet day but for a different visitor that appeared in the late morning.

The Starlings were awake by 6.58am and they left the box (male first) at 7.04am. The female made her first visit to box L at 7.32am and she went into the two boxes frequently over the next fifteen minutes. After that visits became far less frequent, but continued until about 10.30am.

A House Sparrow inspects a starling nest box

At 11.12am a different face appeared at the entrance of box R as a House Sparrow male entered to make its own inspection of the box. It stayed for about a minute. Five minutes later it was at the entrance again, and at 12.31pm it made a second inspection of the box, again staying for over a minute.

I cannot recall seeing a Sparrow visit like this before. Perhaps there is a need for more Sparrow accommodation? I'm not sure where I could put another box.


The Starlings roosting tonightThe female Starling didn't appear again until 4.23pm, and at 4.42pm she retired into box L for the night. The male turned up un box R at 4.43pm and they were both tucking their heads under by 5pm, so the status quo has been restored.!



5 February - First of all, the Great Tit nestbox cameras were off air for much of the day after the power cut at 6.36am knocked out the electrics to their bird box. I sorted the problem out during the late afternoon so things are now back to normal. Fortunately, the time lapse recorder used to monitor the Starlings restarted itself as soon a power was restored and so I only missed some eight minutes of their day.

The pair were alert by 6.45am and they left at an early 7.01am. The female made her first visit of the morning at 7.47am and she went into both boxes quite a few times until just after 9am. Then the frequency of visits slowed, although they continued all morning.

At 12.19pm the male entered box L and there was a brief encounter between the pair (I may have time to expand on this later).

After that the female continued with her occasional visits until around 2pm before there was a long gap until after 4pm. Then the female reappeared, making a couple of visits before she entered box L for the night at 4.48pm. The male turned up in box R at 4.56pm and had his head tucked under within two minutes. His partner took longer to settle and tucked her head under for the first time at 5.25pm.


6 February - On a gloomy day with snow this afternoon the Great Tits didn't go near their box (cameras back in action today).

The Starlings were active by 6.45am and left early again, at 7.03am. The female made her first visit of the day at 7.50am (box L) and she made several visits to both boxes in the next three quarters of an hour.

An encounter between the Starling pair - 1At 8.40am there was an encounter between the pair. The male was the first to enter box L. He started singing and shortly afterwards the female entered. The male retreated to the camera and of the box and crouched down somewhat, but continued to sing. For a minute or so the female stayed near the entrance and even looked as though she was going to leave.

She started to approach her partner but suddenly turned away again, opening her beak wide, but not really appearing to peck at the wood.


An encounter between the Starling pair - 2Then she turned towards him again. This time she went straight towards his head and, without any sign of aggression from either bird she appeared to put her beak against his. At the same time she put her right foot on his back.

It seemed that he was reacting to this by moving to the other end of the box but he stopped, and she turned away and headed for the exit.

There was some hesitation but eventually she left the box, with the male following closely behind.


It was interesting that there was no aggression shown by either partner during the whole sequence.

A few days ago I described how infra-red light seems to emphasise the differences between the pair. I think the images of this sequence show this quite clearly.

After that things got back to a sort of normality. The Male made a brief visit to box R at 9.05am and then it was the female who made occasional visits  until around 11.40am.

The afternoon stillness in the box was interrupted  by the female entering box L at 3.40pm. She popped in there again at 4.31pm and at 4.36pm both birds arrived to roost. They were preening themselves when at 4.49pm I walked down the drive. That was enough to disturb them and they left in a hurry.

The female was back into box L after two minutes and it was another two minutes before the male re-entered box R. This time they stayed put, the male tucking his head under at 4.56pm. The female continued preening until nearly 5.20pm.


7 February - A cloudless, sunny cold morning, and despite a temperature of -1.5C at 8.10am  I have just seen both Great Tits inspect their box, the first time I've seen the male in the box since 30 December.

It took the familiar pattern of male appearing  at the entrance and staying there for a while before entering. While he doesn't produce loud calls at this time, neither is he silent at this time, and if you click here you can hear the sounds that he makes.

Great Tits visit their nest box at 8.10amOnce inside he started to inspect the box, and was pecking at a corner when the female arrived and came straight in.

His response was to remain low and open his beak to utter a muted call (which you can hear by clicking here). The female looked as though she was going to approach him but turned away. As soon as she did, he headed for the exit to leave his partner to get on with her own inspection.

She was in the box again around noon, although during that visit her partner was at the bird table!


The Starlings had an interesting morning. All started quite peacefully with the male alert at 7.42am and the female at 7.55am. At the start of a bright, sunny day they were both out of the box at dead on 7am, their earliest departure yet.

It was the male who made the first visit of the day (to box L) at 7.32am, and a few minutes later the female visited box R and then went into both boxes several times over the next ten minutes.

The male was in box L again at 7.41am, and this time he stayed for nearly nine minutes. After leaving it he went on to visit both boxes several times before 8am.

An encounter between the Starling pair - 1At 8.13am he was in box R again, singing, and when the female entered the sequence that followed bore some resemblance to what happened yesterday.

She headed towards him and put her beak up to his. Then as she turned away again I could see her foot on his back, as happened yesterday.


An encounter between the Starling pair - 2



Then she came back to him, but this time he moved around her towards the entrance before he approached and pecked her on her back.

The sequence ended as she headed out of the box.


Male Starling displays as he sings



Between now and 8.45am the male visited both boxes a number of times, on each visit he displayed his chest feathers and called, seemingly in response to a bird that appeared at the entrance each time.


Male Starling fights with intruder



Finally, at 8.47am the second bird entered and as it did so the male flew across the box at it. the fight that ensued lasted just over 10 seconds before the intruder left in a hurry,



Male Starling after winning the fight



leaving 'our' male as the winner!





The Starling pair appear to be mating

There was another flurry of feathers in box L about five minutes later. However, looking at it frame by frame it was clear that it was not a fight this time. There was no clash of beaks or similar, and all the flapping was being done by the male.

In fact, it appears that the female entered the box, approached the male just as she had done earlier, and he  attempted to mate with her.

When it was all over, it was he who left the box first.


The Starling female brings in a twig, and shuffles


After that event, it seemed only too appropriate when, at 10.01am the female brought a small twig into box L. A couple more bits followed, one being left in box R.

She followed these deliveries with a shuffle at 10.14am. However, as she left the box afterwards she took the twig with her!


From then on the rest of the day was a bit of an anticlimax. There were a few visits, and the male was still singing when the pair visited box L at 4.26pm, although there was no interaction between them this time.

There were a couple of visits to both boxes before the pair arrived in the two boxes at 5.06pm. A minute later something disturbed them and they left again, returning to stay at 5.15pm.


8 February - After yesterday's events, today has been rather quieter for the Starlings, and the Great Tits didn't show up at their box.

It was 6.40am when both Starlings were alert and preening, and they left at 7.01am.

The male appeared in box R at 7.28am  and his partner was in there shortly afterwards.  A few minutes later the female removed a small twig that had remained in box L overnight.

At 9.17am it looked as though we were going to get a repeat of yesterday's events when the female followed the male into box L. He was already singing when she entered, but this time she didn't approach him, going around in circles a couple of times near the entrance before leaving again. The pair met up again three times over a few minutes, this time in box R. Again, there was no contact between the pair, although in the final visit the female came close to touching her partner.

There were no further encounters during the morning, and only occasional individual visits took place until around 11.30am when they stopped.

The male appeared briefly at 2.20pm when he popped into both boxes, and the next visit, at just before 4pm, was by the female.


At 4.44pm the female returned to box L, and as soon as she entered she spun around to 'greet' the male.

As he entered the box his partner backed towards the camera end and raised herself high above him. Nevertheless, I think he managed to get hold of her upper beak for a moment.


Male /female sequence in Starling box - 2


At this point the aggression stopped and he backed away.

There was a long pause as he looked towards the exit and the female seemed to become more relaxed. However, the moment the male headed for the outside she rushed across the box and pecked a wing before he finally left, with the female following close behind.


It was 4.55pm when the pair headed into their separate boxes to roost. The male had his head tucked under by 5.05pm, but it was another twenty minutes before the female stopped preening and did the same.


9 February - A wet day didn't put the Starlings off their earliest start yet.

They were both alert by 6.40am, and the female left at 6.54am, with the male waiting another minute before leaving. The female then made her first visit (box L) at 7.35am and went on to make numerous visits to both boxes over the next hour before the male appeared in box L at 8.38am.

He went to the camera end of the box and puffed up his chest feathers and called. When nothing appeared at the entrance he moved there and called again. When there was no response he left.

At 9.02am and again at 9.45am he repeated the display. These times a bird landed at the entrance but without entering the box.

During the rest of the morning it was only the female who visited, and her visits ceased around noon.

It was 4.27pm when she next appeared, in box R, and it was 4.46pm when she retired to box L for the night. The male headed into box R two minutes later, and they both had their heads tucked under by 5.18pm.

Down at the Great Tit box there were no inspections today, although one of the pair looked in briefly at just after 11am.

- Click on the images to see larger versions -

2009 Nestbox Diary Index...........Start of the Year..........  ..Next chapter