The 2010 Nestbox Diary

April (part 1)

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1 April - A bright and sunny morning with the temperature remaining below 10C . It was 8C at noon and then almost made it to double figures during the afternoon.

There was another trio of visits by the Great Tits today. In fact, the first inspection, around 8am was undertaken by just the female, staying for two minutes. The male appeared for the first time at 8.42am, and after a very short change-over the female stayed a further four minutes if inspection and shuffles.

The third visit, at just after 11am was shorter overall, but the interaction between the pair lasted a long and interesting 24 seconds! What occurs during these encounters is usually over too quickly to see in any detail, so I have tried to look at this one in a bit of detail (all the large images will be grouped together on one page so that you can follow the sequence in its entirety).

Sequence showing interaction between Great Tit pair in nestbox-1



First, the male entered and had a few moments to settle down before the female entered. He  crouched down as she landed.



Sequence showing interaction between Great Tit pair in nestbox-2



As his partner turned away to face the corner her beak passed over the top of his head. He then seemed to give her a gentle peck on the neck before turning to face the exit.




Sequence showing interaction between Great Tit pair in nestbox-3


However, while he headed for the front of the box, stretching up to look out, he didn't leave as he will often do at this point.

Instead, he turned back to face the female before returning to the back-right corner.



Sequence showing interaction between Great Tit pair in nestbox-4


What followed was a series of 'kisses' (probably mutual feeding?).

It seemed to be the female taking the initiative, stretching across first so that their beaks met, although in the third encounter it was the male who reached out.



Sequence showing interaction between Great Tit pair in nestbox-5


Following the last of those 'kisses' the female then pulled back to the other side of the box and raised her body up high while her partner remained in is crouched position.

Then she reach across once more. The male turned his head so that their beaks met, but this time it was obvious that the female wasn't interested. Instead she reached even further and sank her beak into his side,


Sequence showing interaction between Great Tit pair in nestbox-6


and kept it there as her partner moved across the box between her and the glass panel. Rather than stopping, the female simply poked her beak into his back at this point.

Once he could see a way to the exit past the back of his partner's head, he launched himself and ended the sequence by leaving.


Female Great Tit performs a shuffle, 1 April



The female's reaction was simply to get on with her inspection, including a few shuffles before leaving some two and a half minutes later.




Up in the Sparrows' box we are still waiting for a change in behaviour that suggests that egg laying is near.

The House Sparrows roosting tonight, 1 April



Tonight the male is sleeping just a little bit closer to his partner, in sight of the camera for a change.



The blocked entrance to the Sparrows' nest box, 1 April
With the sun rising and setting further towards the north  as each evening passes by, the box now gets some direct sunlight for a short time at dawn and dusk. It meant that I was able to go out at around 6.30pm to take this photograph of the entrance to their box without needing to use flash.

I cannot see the male Sparrow, but it confirms how he has blocked the entrance.



2 April - A cloudy but dry morning gave way to a thoroughly wet start to the afternoon, but with an infrequent glimpse of sunshine.

it's interesting to compare the contrasting relationships between the Great Tit and Sparrow pairs at this pre-nesting stage.

The Sparrow pair in their nest box this morning, 2 AprilThe Sparrows, having roosted in the box (albeit at opposite ends) spend quite a bit of time together in the box in the daytime, especially during the first part of the morning.

Here they are 'taking turns to sit in the still empty nest cup area. The female has priority and the male will wait patiently until she moves away, when he hops into the spot very quickly. However, when his partner returns to the corner he moves to one side just a quickly. This sequence was repeated a number of times during each visit.


However, while they are often in close proximity there is very little actual contact between them, apart from the occasional poke with the beak by the female if her partner doesn't get out of the way quickly enough.

The long, joint visits continued until approaching 11am. However, around lunchtime it was only the male who spent time in the box, something that appears to be a regular part of its daily routine.

As for the Great Tits, they continue to pay just short visits to their nest box. The three visits recorded this morning all involved both birds, but each visit followed a different sequence of events.

The first Great Tit visits of the morning, 2 AprilThe first, at just before 7.30am started with the female entering the box. Once in she didn't really settle down and although she looked around the box she also kept looking up at the entrance.

When the male entered the female immediately stretched across as if expecting to be fed, but at first the male turned his head away. Then there was just  a brief meeting of beaks before he launched himself towards the exit!

His partner then got on with her inspection and some shuffling.


The second visit at around 7.45am involved the male arriving first followed by the briefest of change-over before his partner continued her preparatory work on the box floor for the next couple of minutes.

The final visit of the morning was definitely the most interesting, and suggests that nest building could start very soon -

Interactions between the Great Tit pair at 7.44am - 1


The male entered the box at 8.58am and was very 'edgy', just as his partner was at the beginning of the first visit.

he kept looking towards the entrance and then flew up to it. Moments later he twisted to the side and flew back down to the back-right corner of the box when he crouched, mouth wide open as his partner arrived.


Interactions between the Great Tit pair at 7.44am - 2


One she had landed she appeared to be displaying her breast area to him, and as he lifted himself up from his crouching position she made herself as tall as possible.

That display over with, male took the initiative to reach across to her and touch beaks.



Interactions between the Great Tit pair at 7.44am - 3



This happened twice, but on the third time that the male stretched towards his partner she didn't present her beak to him. Instead he appeared to peck her gentle just below the beak before turning towards the entrance.



Interactions between the Great Tit pair at 7.44am - 4



Rather than leaving, he moved across the front of the box until he was behind his partner, and for a moment I thought that I was about to see the pair mating.



Interactions between the Great Tit pair at 7.44am - 5


However, as the female turned her head towards him, he reached over her back so that they touched beaks once more before he left at high speed.

As usual, the female simple got on with her inspection for the next four minutes.



3 April - A bright morning but grey skies and rain in the late afternoon.

While I have said that with the Sparrows and hopefully the Swifts to come, the Great Tits are the supporting act for me this Spring. However, at the moment they are the birds that dominate the report again today.

Earthworm on nest box glass panel, 3 April


However, before that, there was a first of sorts for the nest box cameras this morning when at 7.12am and earthworm wriggled its way onto and across the glass of the Great Tit box, at least 8ft above ground level - reason enough to change the glass this evening!




Great Tit courtship feeding, 3 AprilFor the Great Tits it has been a relatively busy day with an important step forward. First, rather than the usual three visits per day, the pair were in the box nine times today.

Each visit followed the basic change-over pattern, with the female remaining in the box for 2-4 minutes after the male had left. Courtship feeding featured each time but there was no repeat of the interaction recorded yesterday.

The first eight visits took place at 7.37am, 8.10am, 8.24am, 9.40am,10.49am. 12.07pm, 1.43pm and 4.57pm.


First delivery of nesting materials (moss 'root'), 3 April



Then, at 5.05pm the female arrived on her own and brought in the first length of moss 'root' to signal the commencement of nest building.


Female Great Tit shuffles after delivery of moss 'root', 3 April



She remained in the box for the next three minutes, shuffling and pecking at the box floor before leaving.



She didn't add anything else when I was surprised by the reappearance of the pair at a late 6.54pm, the female following the male into the box for the final change-over visit of the day.

I needed to keep my fingers crossed after this visit that the female wouldn't choose to roost in the box. During the day, the daytime lighting has developed an annoying flicker. This lighting is provided by two banks of three white LEDs controlled via a timer/dimmer arrangement in my workshop shed.

The LEDs are special 12V units intended to replace a conventional 12v light bulb in cars, and it turned out that one was literally 'on the blink' and has now been removed with little effect on the cctv image. Nevertheless I hope to replace it in the next few days.



4 April - A day that was mainly bright and sunny apart from a shower in the early evening.

Interaction between Great Tit pair, 4 April - 1For the Great Tits it was an interesting , if rather short day, at least as far as the box was concerned. At 7.38am there was a brief and straight-forward change-over visit, with no feeding ritual. Then five minutes later the female brought in her first delivery of the day.

She didn't put the root down straight away, looking around, including back at the entrance several times before flinging it down and shuffling (the empty side of the box!).

She went on to perform a couple more shuffles, looking up at the entrance after each one. The final image in this sequence shows her stretch up and leaning back so far that she needed her tail to support her.


Interaction between Great Tit pair, 4 April - 2


This time the male arrived, to be greeted by a partner who obviously expected to be fed. the male's response was to lean away from her, crouch down, and move to the back of the box.


Interaction between Great Tit pair, 4 April - 3



The female again tried to attract his attention, but just as he appeared to turn his head towards her, beak opening, he launched himself at the exit and left!

That was the last time I was to see the male in the box today, although I saw and heard him in the garden through much of the day.


Female Great Tit makes her final visit of the day, 4 April


After this encounter, the female went on to make eighteen more deliveries of moss roots, with the final visit occurring at 10.09am.


The Great Tit nest box at 6am and 7pm today, 4 April



To sum up the day's progress, here are two images recorded at 6am and then 7pm.



For the Sparrows, their routine has yet to change very much, apart from the influence of the lengthening days, at least at the end of the day.

They left the box for the first time at just after 7am and visited as a pair numerous times before 10am, and a few lengths of straw were brought in. During the late morning most visits were by the male on his own. After 12.15pm there was the usual afternoon gap with no more visits until the male returned at 4.17pm.

He was in and out of the box until 5.40pm, and then at 6.07pm he returned along with his partner, and the pair immediately settled down for the night.



5 April - A cool but bright, mainly sunny day, and I haven't had time to look at the day's recordings in great detail.

The House Sparrows prepare to roost, 5 April

The Sparrows continue their daily pattern of behaviour with still no sign that egg laying could be imminent.

Here the pair have just arrived for the night's roost. The male arrived first and headed for the nest cup, only to give way to his partner who arrived almost immediately after him.

The clock on the top-left gives the elapsed time since recording started at 6am.


Even if they produce their first egg tomorrow then fledging would not take place until well into the first week of May - when will the Swifts arrive?!

The Great Tits made their first visit at 7.10am, and I think there was just one more change-over visit before 8am. The female continued to bring in just moss roots during the first part of the morning,

Great Tit female brings in the first bit of moss foliage, 5 April


but at just after 11am she brought in the first green moss foliage. A number of visits followed before they stopped around 11.30am.

There was a second session of deliveries between 2 - 2.25pm during which a mixture of roots and foliage was brought in.



Great Tit nest at the end of the day, 5 April



2.25pm saw the final delivery of the day, and by then the nest was already taking on a sense of structure thanks to the shuffling that went on during some visits.





6 April - A dry, bright day with hazy sunshine, and while the Sparrows continue to keep us waiting, the female Great Tit appears to be in a real hurry to get her nest built.

Great Tit nest at the end of the day, 6 April



The progress seen in the box over the last 24 hours is testament to her efforts during the day. The size of the long twig is quite unusual.




7 April - A grey day with a touch of dampness from time to time. Over the last two days I have had little time to monitor the boxes. However, a quick check through the recordings tonight confirms that the Sparrows continue in roosting mode (they returned for the night at around 5.40pm), and the Great Tit female has continued with her nest building.

Great Tit pair in partly built nest, 7 AprilOnce nest building gets under way the male is seen in the box far less often, but he did make a brief visit this morning at 9.36am, having perched outside the entrance for a couple of minutes prior to entering.

Once in, he hardly had time to look around when his partner arrived with her beak full with moss. She seemed to ignore him as she decided where to deposit her load, and he left the box immediately.



The female's work on the nest started with the delivery of a moss root at 7.20am. She went on to bring in materials fifty one times during the day, with her final visit at 3.15pm.

Great Tit female rests in her partly built nest, 7 April


The visits came in clusters of anywhere from one to seven, with long gaps in between, and in many cases she only stayed long enough to release her load and leave again.

On perhaps half the visits she took a few moments to shuffle the moss to the sides of the box as the nest cup is created. However, at around 2pm she actually took a rest from her efforts for a couple of minutes.



Great Tits' partly built nest tonight, 7 April



Finally, the nest as it looks tonight. I hope to take some 'real' photographs of it tomorrow evening.





8 April - A taste of summer today with a high of 15C today, although it felt warmer in the sunshine, and that came after a chilly night with the temperature dropping to just below 4C.

The Sparrows continue to keep us waiting and wondering as time moves on and the danger of being evicted comes closer.

Sunshine in the Great Tit box at 7.30am, 8 AprilEven the Great Tit female seemed to be taking things relatively easy today. Her first visit came at 7.13am when she arrived with an empty beak but spend a couple of minutes shuffling energetically in the nest.

This cctv image, shows the moment before she entered, with the early morning sunshine bouncing back and forth between the glass panel and the front of the box. This effect only occurs for a short time when the rising sun is positioned in line with our shared driveway.


She was back in the box once more before 8am, this time with the first moss of the day. Between 8-9am she made just three more deliveries, then nine more in the next hour, and seven between 10 and 11am, and that was it for the day, apart from a bird (Great Tit male?) at the entrance for half a minute at 6.30pm.

A bumblebee in the Great Tit box this afternoon, 8 April


There was another visitor to the box during the afternoon in the form of a Buff-tailed Bumblebee.

It was in the box for just a few seconds and didn't even go all the way down to the nest before leaving again.




9 April - Another day with the promise of summer, although cooler temperatures in the shady parts of the garden remind you otherwise.

The Great Tit female made her first visit at an early 6.47am, although her first delivery of moss wasn't until 7.09am. She had made fourteen more deliveries by 8am.  Then there was a gap until 8.42am when the male inspected the work so far, leaving before his partner made the first of nine more deliveries before 9am.

First delivery of hair to the Great Tit nest, 9 AprilAt 9.18am she brought in a beakful of what looks like coarse white hair. There were two more like this before 10am.

Between then and 4pm there were nineteen more deliveries, only one of which was moss, the rest being hair or wool.



Female Great Tit visits nest at 7.34pm, 9 April


The only other visit today caught me by surprise. The daytime lighting had switched off when the female appeared at 7.34pm. Moments later the male appeared at the entrance, although he didn't enter. The female briefly appeared to be settling into the nest before she left again two minutes later.



Tonight I put in clean glass and changed two of the LEDs used for daytime lighting. It's surprising how much they set has dimmed since I first installed them. I also found that I needed to replace the extension lead that I use to trigger the electronic flash unit installed above the nest. When I went to use it tonight I found that the plug that connects to the camera had been chewed by something!

The Great Tit nest tonight - 1, 9 April




Anyway, I used my little Olympus to take the pictures of the nest tonight.



The Great Tit nest tonight - 2, 9 April



The Great Tit seems to have used a darker bit of hair at the bottom of the nest cup. This is the first day that the bottom of the box has been completely covered.



The Sparrows haven't been forgotten, but tonight the pair are roosting in their usual positions at either end of the box and there is nothing new to report!



10 April - As the taste of Summer continues the Sparrows continue with their bursts of activity in the box during the morning. However, this morning they didn't leave together. The male left at 6.19am but his partner continued to sleep, giving be some hope that things were about to change. She was awake by 6.30am and left the box a few minutes later with no sign yet of their first egg, only a dropping left over from the roost. This was cleared away during the activities that followed between 8 - 10am.

A male Sparrow collects dried grass for its nest, 10 April



Although I'm not sure if this pair added anything to their nest, Sparrows were definitely collecting for nests today.



As usual, the box remained quiet for most of the afternoon until the pair reappeared at 4.30pm and stayed for half an hour. They were back in at 5.47pm. This time the female remained when her partner left again a few minutes later. The female remained very restless until he returned at just before 7pm after which both birds settled down quite quickly.

In the Great Tit box the day started at 6.36am, with the female bringing in a bundle of wool(?), followed by three more before 7am. There were five more deliveries in the next hour and just three between 8 - 9am. There was just one delivery between 9 - 10am and no more during the rest of the morning. There was a bird at the entrance briefly at 10.49am, possibly the male.

During the afternoon there were just two more deliveries, at 1.18 and 3.09pm, and in a what was close to a repeat of yesterday's behaviour, the male entered the box briefly at 7.30pm before the female did the same a minute later.


The Great Tit nest after the final delivery of the day, 10 April


Here is the nest as seen by the cctv cameras after the final delivery of the day,



The Great Tit nest this evening, 10 April


and then after the late visit, when I went down to the box to check on what I thought may be a bad connection in a lighting circuit (nothing untoward found).


The Great Tit nest this evening - the nest cup, 10 April



Finally, looking down into the nest cup.

There have been no feathers delivered so far.



- Click on the images to see larger versions -

2010 Nestbox Diary Index .......... .................................  ..April (part 2)