The 2010 Nestbox Diary

May (part 2)

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4 May - Another bright, sunny day with a northerly breeze that was gentler than over the last few days, but still enough to keep it feeling a bit too cool.

The Great Tits' clutch of nine eggs - 4 MayWith the Great Tits' nine eggs due to hatch any day from now on I thought I should record them beforehand.

As usual, this picture was taken through the glass back of the box, and via a strategically placed front silvered mirror.

A flashgun, put into position before the nesting season provides the lighting in a set-up that has worked well for me for a number of years without causing problems for the birds.

I'm looking forward to the opportunity to use the same arrangement to follow the development of the chicks over the next couple of weeks.

The Sparrows have continued their frequent visits to the Martin boxes, and again it is the male that is roosting tonight in box 2.

The Swifts again had a late start. They headed for the exit at 9.09am but thought twice about leaving and headed back to the nest. They did this again at 8.34am, but it wasn't until 9.58/9.59am that they eventually headed out for the day.

Tomorrow I may take advantage of their prolonged absence to  install an additional LED in the box to improve the lighting in the area below the camera.

As I write this at 7.45pm while there are a few small clouds to the north and east of us, the sky above us is clear, but I cannot see a solitary Swift (or Martin).

The Swift pair roosting tonight - 4 MayAfter writing that I went back outside and waited. At around 8.55pm three Swifts appeared, gradually flying closer and lower. Eventually, just after 8pm one of them flew silently down our shared driveway. It flew a circuit around the neighbouring pair of houses and flew up to the entrance and Swift box (upper) and banged against it before flying another circuit. This time it was joined by the second bird, and when they got to the box one entered while the other banged against it once more. This bird then flew around the circuit a final time before entering.


I carried on watching the third Swift and at 8.15pm this made a first landing on the guttering of my neighbour's house, then flew off briefly before returning to enter their loft. There was still no sign of a partner.

I've finally got around to adding the missing large images to the last couple of nest box diary pages. Now I need to do the same to the garden diaries...


5 May - Great Tit hatching under way

The Great Tits' first chick has hatched - 5 MayAs expected, the Great Tit eggs are hatching, although I cannot give a time for the first chick's appearance.

When the mother left the nest at 5.33am she revealed the first of her chicks. However, I can't pinpoint the time of hatching as I've seen no sign of the female eating or removing the shell. I'll be taking a closer look at the recording later today.


The Great Tits' first chick has hatched; mother returns - 5 May



The female was back in four minutes later,



The Great Tits' second chick hatches - 5 May



and at 5.43am the male arrived with a suitably small caterpillar to provide the chick's first feed.



By 10am there were five chicks, more details when I get time to check more of the recording.


The Great Tits' five chicks at noon - 5 May


There were still five chicks when the female left just before noon, giving me a chance to photograph them for the first time.

I hope to have the opportunity to take some close-up pictures during the afternoon.


This year the nest cup is in a good position relative to the mirror I use so that I can see more of  the chicks that sometimes happens.


6 May -  It was a grey, quite cold day with a temperature outside of 12C, but as the afternoon progressed the cloud cover broke up and it became sunny.

The Great Tits' chicks are fed early this morning, 6 May


I wasn't able to get back to the Great Tit box yesterday, but I hope to do so this afternoon.

In the meantime, as of 11.30am today there are still two eggs which the female continues to incubate between feeding the seven chicks.


A Sparrow egg visible in the Swift box this morning, 6 May



Up the Swift box one of the Sparrow eggs is now in clear view, having been moved out of the nest cup.



Since the Sparrows were evicted their eggs have performed a partial disappearing act, with only one visible in the nest cup over the last couple of days. However, I have seen no indication that either of the Swifts have removed any from the box. In order to confirm this, earlier today I went through the continuous recording that I have that covers all the time since the Swifts arrived. On several nights at least one of the Swifts has spent some time with its head down in the nest cup, and it may be that the eggs were being pushed under the straw.

A Swift moves a Sparrow egg this morning, 6 MayHowever, early this morning, the one egg that keeps on appearing obviously needed more drastic treatment. At 5.45am, as it was getting light outside, one of the Swifts pushed its head down into the nest cup and came up with the egg in its beak.

For a moment it appeared to be heading to the exit, but then it turned around, the egg popped out of its beak and hit the second Swift on the head, before bouncing back onto the straw where it has remained for the rest of the day!


There was no attempt to pick it up again, and the pair settled again until they left at 7.20am. One of them returned at 9.39am and stayed for over an hour before heading out for the rest of the day.

Yesterday evening I spent a while outside watching for Swifts. Once again it was just a group of three that I saw, arriving overhead together around 7.30pm. Two eventually went into our Swift box (upper), and some time later the third went into my neighbours' loft. However, around 8.30am this morning  I was able to confirm that a second Swift is also going into the loft as I saw the pair follow each other in.

The House Sparrows continue to show a lot of interest in the Martin nests. As I write this around noon the male is pecking at everything in nest 2, while the female shuffles in nest 3.


Seven Great Tit chicks that afternoon, 6 MayThis afternoon I spent a couple of short sessions down in the Great Tit box viewing area, and took some more photographs.

Although they are not visible in this shot, there are still two eggs still to hatch this afternoon, although it is increasingly likely that this will not happen now.

I have to remind myself that these pink creatures will be ready to fly in 19-20 days!


Great Tit male brings a caterpillar for a chick, 6 May


The seven chicks all look healthy at this stage, and there is plenty of food being brought in for them by both parents.

This is the male with what is the largest caterpillar I have seen brought in so far.




Close-up of a 1 day old Great Tit chick, 6 May


As each day goes by I hope to show how the appearance of the chicks changes as they develop.

At the moment they have tufts of down, especially on the top of the head and low down the back, bulbous eyes which are firmly closed, and that wide beak


Close-up of 1 day old Great Tit chicks' gapes



which becomes a bright yellow, gaping target whenever they hear a noise that suggests that food is being delivered.

In this picture you can see the tongue of one chick and the split upper palate of another.



A 1 day old Great Tit chick's wing, 6 May



Looking past the gape in this picture you can see what will become a powerful wing in less than three weeks.

Notice the small thumb.


A 1 day old Great Tit chick's wing and leg, 6 May



With the young chicks in a constant tangle at the bottom of the nest cup, I don't often get the chance to photograph the leg(s) of a chick,


A 1 day old Great Tit chick's claws, 6 May




and to see how much their claws have already developed.




The female Great Tit sits on her chicks, 6 May


Finally, a portrait of their mother, having fed them and now settling down for an incubation session.

Taking this photograph made no difference to her behaviour as she continued to shuffle herself into position over the chicks. She was still sitting there while I returned to the house and processed the pictures.



Perhaps I should emphasise at this point that while taking these photographs I am hidden behind a black curtain. In addition, I also wear a long sleeved, polo-necked black top, black silk gloves and a black silk balaclava - and I try to avoid being spotted by the neighbours as I dash down the garden! I nearly forgot - I also wear soft soled slippers....


7 May - The weather is beginning to remind me of the grey skies that blighted last year's nesting season. I hope that scenario isn't going to be repeated this month. Today the temperature crept up to around 12C around noon after and overnight low of 6C, and then started dropping again during the afternoon. At least the cloud started to break up in the early evening. And the winds continue to blow in from the north north-east, with little prospect of change for at least the next five days.

I took some photographs down the Great Tit box this afternoon. However, with the conditions not favourable for the parents hunting insects I didn't want to risk any undue disturbance and only stayed for a couple of minutes.

Great Tit chicks this afternoon (day2/3), 7 May



At first glance, the chicks don't appear to have made much progress over the past day.



Great Tit chick this afternoon (day2/3) showing start of feather tract development, 7 May


However, a closer look reveals some important early developments along feather tracts of the wings,



Great Tit chick (day2/3) showing start of feather tract development on wings and shoulders, 7 May






Great Tit chick (day2/3) showing start of feather tract development on wings and legs, 7 May


thighs and legs.

In the first two images you can see a dark red line running down the right side of the neck of the chick. I believe this is one of three caval veins taking blood back to the heart. In this picture you can see that it isn't present on the left side.



Great Tit chick (day2/3) gapes; and an infertile egg, 7 May


In this final image you can see one of the two eggs that must have failed.

If the weather continues cold and food becomes limited then this could be a blessing in disguise for the remainder of the clutch.




There's no development to report from the Swift box. They left at 8.06am only to return three minutes later before heading out for the rest of the day at 9.26am.

This evening one of the pair returned at just before 6pm  and left again at 6.35pm. the same bird(?) returned at 6.43pm and its partner joined it at 6.57pm. They both left for a short time at 8.13pm, returning for the night five minutes later.

Today I only ever saw up to three Swifts overhead, and there has been no sign of House Martins since I last mentioned them on 29 April. I didn't mention in yesterday's entry that last night, around 8pm I counted eight Swifts overhead, although most disappeared after just a few minutes.

The Swifts (and Sparrow egg) tonight, 7 May



Tonight the Sparrow egg continues to stand out in the webcam image, having been ignored since yesterday's juggling act!



The Sparrows continue their activities in and around the House Martin nests. I really do need to put a shelf up over the external camera which they are using a a perch.

Looking further afield, the Starlings in the Swift box across the road really are busy feeding their chicks at the moment. Over the weekend I shall watch out to see if the youngsters are able to look out of the entrance yet.


8 May - The weather went further downhill today, with grey skies turning grimmer as the morning progressed before it started drizzling by noon, the wet conditions continuing for the most of the afternoon. The temperature remained below 10C all day.

While the Sparrows continued their activities  around the Martin nests, both the Swifts and the Great Tits clearly felt the effect of the weather.


The Swifts had a somewhat truncated day. Their first trips out came at just after 10am but only lasted about three minutes. It was 12.16pm before one of them ventured out again. Its partner left at 12.31pm and they returned at 1.15 and 1.25pm. the pair had one trip out between 2.33pm and 3.18pm before they settled down for the night!


With chicks to feed, the Great Tits had to find food despite the weather. The female made her first trip out at 5.24am and returned for the night at 7.44pm. Between those times she left the box 31 times, for a total of 293 minutes, giving an average of around 9 minutes.

There was a distinct difference between the dry morning and the wet afternoon. Between 5.24am and noon she left the box 17 times for a total of 110 minutes, giving an average of 6 minutes. During the rest of the day 14 trips for a total of 183 minutes give an average time out of the box of around 13 minutes - twice as long as in the morning.

During the morning food was brought into the box 55 times ( 5.24am -noon) giving a rate of around 8.5 per hour. During the afternoon (noon to 6pm) that dropped to 6 per hour. However, with the rain having stopped,  between 6pm and when activity stopped at 7.44pm there was a surge in feeding, with 27 feeds, averaging over 15 feeds per hour.

Great Tit chick (day 3/4) showing development of feather tract development, 8 May


I spent a short time down at the box during the late afternoon, and the pictures show more progress in the development of the feather tracts, and



Great Tit chick (day 3/4) -closeup of head, showing development of feather tract development, 8 May



in one case I can see the first signs of feather development on the top of the head.



Great Tit chick (day 3/4) shows off its wings, 8 May



It is quite clear which chicks were the first to hatch as their wings are now darker than their slightly younger siblings.

Notice that the chick on the left has feather tracts running down the middle of its back - so far these have not appeared on the chick in the middle of the picture.


Great Tit chicks (day 3/4) showing early wing development and closed eyes, 8 May



And of course, their eyes remain tightly closed.



Great Tit chicks (day 3/4) - gape triggered by noise at entrance, 8 May



At this stage they rely on sound clues to trigger the gape response. If the noise of the parent entering the box fails to trigger this, then that parent will usually give single muted chirps to attract their attention.



It would be unusual to see all the chicks gape at the same time during the day as some will be busy digesting food that they have already received. However, when they do it is a simple way to confirm that all chicks are well. This evening I have been a bit concerned in that when I went through the recording form the 'look down' camera at no time could I distinguish more than five chicks out of the seven that should be there. I need to check again in the morning.

The female Great Tit keeps her chicks warm on a cold day, 8 MayOne last series of pictures. While I was in the box the female returned, fed a chick and settled down. Once this happens I look it is a case of keeping still until  she heads out again.

Where as when she sits on eggs she can remain very still for ages, with chicks under her now she is being bumped from below so that her body is almost constantly in motion.



The female Great Tit eats caterpillar brought in by her partner, 8 May

While I watched, the male brought in what I assume was a large caterpillar that he had 'processed' (removed the head and gut) before delivery.

This caterpillar was either too big for the chicks, or the female was very hungry, because she took it from her partner and ate it straight away.

Sometimes the female will leave after the male has visited, but on this occasion I had to watch another eight minutes before she, and then I left.

- Click on the images to see larger versions -

2010 Nestbox Diary Index .......... .................................  ..May (part 3)