The 2009 Nestbox Diary
July (part 1)
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1 July - An interesting start to the new month. with the veranda temperature just about reaching 33C after only dipping to 21C last night, and some familiar behaviour by the Swifts.
First of all, having been left alone in STle last night the lone Swift didn't stay overnight but left at 11.34pm. This morning it was the first to return, entering the box at 4.56am and staying until 5.35am.
The next visitor, arriving at 5.55am was 'White Spot' and it stayed for an hour. Over the next couple of hours there were four individual visits to the box (just one by 'White Spot') before the pair arrived together at 9.09am.
During one visit, 'No-spot' paused and gaped for a short time, behaviour I have watched in Great and Blue Tits during hot weather while they were nesting.
The pair spent another period together in the box, starting at 11.26am until 12.10am. During today's shared visits the pair seemed to be paying a lot of attention to the circular clear area below the camera. In addition to the usual mutual preening, which was undertaken with great enthusiasm, they clearly spent time working on the rim of the clear area in a way I was familiar with from my watching the other nesting in the garden.
This behaviour was followed up over the rest of the afternoon by a series of five individual, very interesting visits by the two birds.
Twice the 'no-spot' partner (female?) brought in small bits of what looked like bits of feather,
and 'White Spot' came in three times, also with what looked like feather fragments and bits of straw.
All the bits were incorporated into the rim of the clear area - nest building, or just practicing?
The lower image shows an amusing moment when all we could see of the second bird was its head poking up between the wings of its partner.
Even though this pair have a substantial ready-made nest, thanks to a Sparrow, this afternoon I saw one of the pair bringing in something in its beak.
It looks soft but I cannot be sure that it is a feather.
This evening, the Swifts from SWup were the first to arrive for the night, at 9.09pm. It was 9.37pm before 'White Spot' arrived in STle, and 9.43pm before its partner returned, meaning that all four birds are here, at least at 10.30pm!
I look forward to tomorrow with interest!
2 July - The official heatwave conditions continue, although it was a bit cooler last night with the temperature on the veranda dropping to just below 18C. At 11am it was still only 24C, but by the middle of the afternoon the thermometer registered 31C. The forecast is for it to get cooler from now on, just as we start to get used to it!
In STle there was a slow start to the day, with the pair remaining in the box until 'White-Spot' left at 8.23am. Its partner left at 8.30am and was the first to return, just three minutes later. It stayed for over an hour before heading out at 9.39am.
'White-Spot arrived at 9.56am, bringing in a small bit of something that I couldn't make out. It stayed for the next half hour, and in that time spent time shuffling around in the nest cup and tending to the sides of it.
There was another brief visit by the unmarked partner at 10.57am before 'White-Spot' returned again at 11.18am - I don't think it had anything in its beak this time.
A minute later it was joined by its partner, who literally crashed in through the entrance with a white feather in her(?) beak. She ended up in a bit of a tangle with her partner's wing as she appeared to try and take over the spot in the corner.
At one stage 'White-Spot' ended up upside-down as the feather was passed to it. In the end, and after a noisy 'conversation' the nest cup was conceded to the partner and the pair paused for some time before they both left at 11.30am.
Since they started bringing in materials, I think their arrival through the entrance has become much more rapid and dramatic, with them tumbling against the back of the box - 'White-Spot' has just done exactly that as I write this at 1.30pm. He is now fixing the feather into position - do they use their saliva to help in this process?
Over in SWup the day started with one of the roosting pair leaving at 6.35am, although it was back four minutes later. The pair finally left at 9.06am.
One returned at 9.50am and was joined by its partner at 9.54am. It's difficult to tell some of what goes on in that box because of the nest position. Sometimes, when it appears to be empty you can just make out the dark figure of a Swift in the space beyond the nest. At the end of this visit the pair left at 10.33am.
Again, the pair arrived at different times (noon and 12.16pm) and stayed until 1.36pm. At 2.15pm one came in with an unidentifiable bit in its beak, and this was repeated at 3.43 and 3.52pm. There has been no sign so far of this pair bringing in any feathers.
Tonight it was the Swifts in SWup that arrived back first. One bird entered the box at 8.50pm. At 9.11pm it left again, but almost immediately a bird entered again. This time, a second bird appeared at the entrance and I think it was preened around its neck before it actually entered the box at 9.13pm.
The first arrival in STle was 'White-Spot' at 9.12pm and he(?) waited at the entrance until his partner arrived ten minutes later.
3 July - Overnight the temperature didn't fall below 20C, but this morning it is overcast outside, and dry, although the ground is slightly damp so there must have been some drizzle earlier.
It seems that this change in the weather has prompted the Swifts to get an earlier start. In SWup the pair left at 6.35/6.36am, while 'White-Spot left STle at 7.17am, his partner following two minutes later.
During the day, both birds in STle brought in feathers, 'white-spot' three and its partner four, although they were in the box together just once, at just before 2pm when they stayed for about half an hour.
'White-Spot' returned to roost at 9.20pm, waiting at the entrance until its partner arrived at 9.31pm.
Things seem quite different in SWup. I saw nothing obvious being brought in, perhaps the Sparrow nest doesn't need improvement, but the pair were together in the box more often - a stay of over 50 minutes, starting at 11.03am; one of 40 minutes at 2.36pm; and one of 31 minutes at 7.50pm, before they returned to roost at 9.20/21pm.
4 July - A cooler morning with the temperature at just 21C at noon. The sky is largely obscured by cloud (although the local airfield is reporting this to be at 2500ft so there is plenty of 'headroom' for the Swifts), and there was just a short period of light drizzle during the morning.
The first Swifts out were the pair in SWup, the first bird leaving at 6.54am, with its partner going two minutes later. The pair in STle left in quick succession at 7.11am.
Today both birds in STle continued to bring in feathers, 4 by 'White-Spot' and 3 by his partner.
Their first deliveries were just after 9am. White-Spot was in first, and having deposited the feather he was soon back at the entrance, waiting for his partner. She arrived with a another feather six minutes later.
The male remained by the entrance as she put the feather into place. Once that was dome there was a pause of a few minutes with neither bird doing very much.
However, at 9.18am the female first shuffled to the bottom-right corner, swivelled around and headed to the bottom -left corner where she adopted the pose seen here which she held for a little over twenty seconds. If it was intended to prompt a response from the male it didn't seem to work!
She lowered her wings again she shuffled a little closer to him. After a pause she moved even closer and turned her head as though inviting him to preen her neck. She also seemed to lean her whole body over slightly. He started to take notice and as he spread his wings out slightly she flicked up her right wing and virtually rolled over and he reached over and touched the side of her body with his beak.
After that, she backed away and he came down off the ramp. They spent a while side by side, with her turning her head and vibrating her wings to gain his attention, although with little luck as he headed back up onto the ramp. She continued in her efforts, sometimes lying with the wing on his side raised again. She twice more adopted the pose in the corner shown in the first picture as well as leaning to one side again.
Eventually, all her efforts seemed to affect the male and after over an hour he started to pay attention to her, with lots of mutual preening taking place before they left the box at 10.46am.
The next visit to that box didn't come until 1.48pm and it was 'White-Spot' who arrived first again, entering in dramatic fashion.
As during that first visit, as soon as he deposited the feather he headed for the entrance to wait.
The female arrived sixteen minutes later, and this time, after having to dodge out of her way, calling loudly as he did so, he followed her over to the corner.
Instead of taking time to put the feather down, she held herself straight and vibrating her wings. He responded by moving his beak along the back edge of the wing nearest him.
Some more wing trembling and preening followed before the pair started to do their own preening until the two moved to the entrance ready to leave. A bit more mutual preening, and they left in quick succession at 2.21pm.
There were three more individual visits towards the end of the afternoon, and White-Spot returned to roost at 9.20pm. The female turned up three minutes later.
In SWup it was another relatively quiet day, especially this afternoon, but the pair were back in the box to roost by 9.24pm.
During the day looking up at our chimney reminded me of the dilemma that will face me next Spring. This (plus a couple of others unseen) is basically our local Starling flock at the moment.
With Starling numbers having plummeted nationally can I cater for both them and Swifts, also in trouble.....
5 July - A very pleasant, dry day with the temperature peaking at a comfortable 23C, and it was breezy - it should have been a good day for feathers being blown through the air.
This morning it was the turn of the pair in STle to be first out, the female left at 7.32am and 'White-Spot' at 7.36am.
It wasn't until 9.45am that the first of them returned, with White-Spot entering, but without anything visible in his beak. Similarly, when his partner appeared four minutes later she too was 'empty beaked'. The pair engaged in quite a bit of mutual preening with much wing trembling by the female. She left at 10.10am by her partner stayed until 10.25am.
After that the day saw just four more visits, all by the female, who brought in feathers, with the last of the afternoon taking place at 2.29pm.
It was a late start this morning in SWup, with the the pair leaving together at 8.33am.
One returned at 9.27am and stayed until just after 10am, giving the camera a good look before departing.
Then, there was a gap in activity until a male House Sparrow appeared in SWlo at 11.22am, staying for two minutes. It returned to that box twice before noon, with the last visit lasting 18 minutes.
At 12.09pm the Sparrow ventured into SWup.
It only stayed for a minute but during that time it disturbed an insect that dashed across the nest cup before the Sparrow grabbed it and left.
It wasn't possible to gain any idea as to what the insect was from the cctv image.
The Sparrow returned to the box at 12.34pm and again at 12.49pm having called in SWlo briefly first.
This time it spent a short time moving a length of straw about before leaving at 12.52pm.
Five minutes later the Swift pair returned for the last visit of the day. They stayed until 1.28pm.
While the Swifts in STle only bring in a small number of feathers each day, it is now easy to see the progress that they are making.
The insert shows the state of the box on 22 June, the day entered the boxes for the first time.
Tonight, the Swift pair returned to SWup at 8.46pm.
At just before 9pm 'White-Spot arrived in STle with a feather. Three minutes later the female turned up with what appears to be a bit of straw in her beak. As usual when the male is already in the nest cup, he was reluctant to give up the spot and his partner had to push her way into the corner. Once she was in place the male made his way back over towards the entrance, although a few minutes later he was back over and preening his partner as the pair settled down side by side.
Usually, once 'our' Swifts are in for the night I can still see Swifts overhead and hear some come screaming past us, but tonight at 9.20pm the skies over us appear to be void of Swifts.
At 9.30pm the only bird I could see was this Blackbird, and he was not able to call from his perch as he was obviously still collecting food for offspring.
Stepping back to the early hours of the morning, while I haven't really said anything about what goes on at night, this image from 4am shows that courtship preening certainly isn't restricted to the daylight hours.
The overnight recording shows that in both boxes the pairs are engaged in mutual preening for much of the night, until they start to move about more after 5am.
- Click on the images to see larger versions -