The 2009 Nestbox Diary

May (part 1)

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1 May - since hatching: 7-8 days Starlings; 6 days Great Tits

All seems to be continuing well in the two nests.

The Great Tit chicks at 5pm


The amount of progress made by the Great Tit chicks each day continues to amaze me.




Great Tit chick - close-up of wing feather development


This is especially so as the wing feathers develop. The wing shafts that had only just emerged yesterday are now more like rows of needles!

Notice the row of light feather shafts - this will become the  band of white covert feathers seen on the adult's wings (see final picture).

Great Tit chick - close-up showing wing and ear


In this picture, as well as the wing again you get a clear view of the chick's ear.

Unlike our ears, birds do not have an external ear, although they can have specialised feathers that help direct sounds into the ear canal that you see here. This ends in a eardrum, beyond which is the inner ear where a bone called the columella transmits sound to the cochlea.



Great Tit chick -close-up of tail

Just as important as the wing development is that of the tail.

Today that consists of just a stubby row of very short feather shafts emerging from a swollen region containing fused vertebrae and known as the pygostyle. The muscles that control the tail are attached to this.

Below the tail is the bird's cloaca. Eventually this will be surrounded by a ring of feathers, although there is little sign of them so far.


Great Tit family - the adults (male on the right) and one of their chicks


And finally, the parents, with the female on the left. I only took this one shot today.

Just as they did yesterday, they seemed to ignore the camera completely so it should become easier gradually increase the time I spend in the box from now on without being concerned as much about putting them under stress.


No pictures from the Starling box today, but everything seems to be going well for the chick. A second bird visited box L again this morning, twice before 7am while the female was sitting in box R. There were a few other visits to box L (including one this evening) while she was absent, but I can't tell if was her or the other bird.

I see that the Blue Tit has reverted to using House Martin nest 3 to roost tonight. I've looked skywards a number of times today but saw neither House Martin nor Swift - disappointing.


2 May - since hatching: 8-9 days Starlings; 7 days Great Tits

A very pleasant, sunny start to the Bank Holiday weekend. This afternoon I made some adjustments to the Swift boxes, removing some of the straw that I had put in as it seems that less is better!

The Starling chick at just after noon today


I also gave the Starling box cameras another quick clean, and took advantage the visit to grab just a single picture of the chick. It is at much the same stage as the Great Tit chicks, although I see that its eye(s) are open.

As you can see on the webcam, the nest is a total disaster to look at, not at all like the soft, organised nest of the Great Tits.



And now, today's Great Tit pictures (no adults this time - I was in the box for about 20 minutes during which time neither turned up)

The Great Tit chicks at around 6pm today



It's around 24 hours since the last set of pictures, and progress continues apace.


Close up of one of the Great Tit chicks at around 6pm today



Concentrating on just one chick, the feathers over the crown of its head and down its spine are growing well, as are the wing feathers (see the next picture).

When you look at an adult bird it is difficult to visualise just how much of the body is actually void of feathers. These naked areas are called the apteria, while the feather tracts are known as pterylae.


Close up of developing wing feathers on a Great Tit chick


Since yesterday, the white feathers on the wings have started to burst out of the feather shafts, giving them the appearance of small paint brushes.

Look carefully at the large image and you may just be able to see that the same has happened to the dark covert feathers above the white ones.  However, the primary flight feathers are still completely enclosed.


Close up of a Great Tit chick's head


This side view shows a very wrinkly looking chick with the feathers art the top of its head sticking up in the manner of a punk haircut, any you can see the light feathers of the bird's cheek, starting to overlap the front rim of the ear.

If you compare the picture with ones taken on 27 April you can see how the profile of the beak is changing, as the gape recedes and the beak proper begins to darken.


Close up of a Great Tit chick's gape




However, the prospect of food quickly brings the gape into play.


Close up of a Great Tit chick's head showing an open eye



And, following on from today's Starling picture, in this one shot two of the chicks demonstrated that they can now open their eyes a little bit at least.

Despite birds not having the external ear that we possess, the fold of skin around this chick's ear gives a very good impression of that structure.


Tomorrow I must go down to the box earlier in the day when I see that the parents are more active and there shorter gaps between feeds.

There were no visitors to Starling box L today.


3 May - since hatching: 9-10 days Starlings; 8 days Great Tits

All five chicks continue to do well, although a slight technical hitch means that I have no pictures from the Starling box today.

Getting pictures in the Great Tit box hasn't been without its problems, with the chicks often disappearing under the overhang in the nest cup, and I had few chances to record the visible changes that have taken place over the last 24 hours.

A great Tit chick after 7-8 days




This back view might not show a great change from yesterday,


A great Tit chick's gape and eye after 7-8 days




but it certainly looks as though the eyes are opening a bit wider today.



A great Tit chick's back and tail after 7-8 days


Looking towards the tail it's clear that many feathers are now 'bursting' out from their sheaths.

Enough of the yellow feathers of the bird's front have emerged for them to take on a quite fluffy appearance.



A great Tit chick's back and tail after 7-8 days - close-up


I didn't manage to photograph a tail yesterday, but this picture shows just how much the tail feathers have grown in the last two days.

It looks as though the tail feathers have just started to emerge from their sheaths.

Unfortunately I didn't get any useable wing pictures today.


While I haven't attempted to do any counting, it seems clear that with just four chicks to feed, the gaps between food deliveries seems to be quite long, and the female continues to return from some trips with no food for the chicks.

Great Tit female with green caterpillar



However, here she is with a still alive green caterpillar. It's not particularly large, but at least there are some about now, which is good news for the chicks.


Great Tit male with brown caterpillar




And here is the male with a larger brown caterpillar.





4 May - since hatching: 10-11 days Starlings; 9 days Great Tits

A grey and cool Bank Holiday Monday with the temperature not reaching 13C.

Chaos in the Great Tit nest as chicks undermine it


All chicks are doing well, but today the Great Tit nest lost all claims to be neat as the chicks burrowed under the nest, disappearing from sight on numerous occasions and likely to pop up just about anywhere when food was delivered.

It really made it difficult to get pictures of the chicks today.


Close-up of the Great Tit chicks today



Here you can see the development of the feathers on the 'shoulders' of a chick, and the green colouring of them and the feathers down the spinal tract.



Close-up of a Great Tit chick's wing today


While I have seen a couple of wing stretches taking place, I've so far not had the opportunity to get some decent wing pictures.

In this picture you can see the primary flight feathers starting to emerge from their sheaths.



Close-up of a Great Tit showing chin and neck feathers


And finally, a chick stretching up to greet a parent shows off its chin and neck feathers, including what will become the two tracts of dark feathers which will eventually meet up to form the black central band that distinguishes between the sexes.

While the chicks appear to be healthy, it is still strange to see how the female often returns to the box without food



The Starling chick displays its wing feathers


Up in the Starling box the youngster is now very vocal - from outside it seems to be making up for the lack of siblings!

In this image you can see how well its flight feathers are developing. It looks as though a couple are starting to emerge from their sheaths.

As with the Great Tit chicks, the feathers of its spinal tract are still in their early stages so that its back is still largely uncovered.


5 May - since hatching: 11-12 days Starlings; 10 days Great Tits

Pictures still to be added

6 May - since hatching: 12-13 days Starlings; 11 days Great Tits

Pictures still to be added

- Click on the images to see larger versions -

2009 Nestbox Diary Index............Start of the Year...........  ..May - part 2