The 2010 Nestbox Diary

May (part 3)

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

9 May - The Grey weather continues, with no breaks in the clouds seen all day, although it stayed more or less dry, and the temperature reached around 12C.

The clutch of 4/5 day old Great Tit chicks this afternoon, 9 MayAs I feared yesterday evening, there are just five chicks in the nest, which means that in addition to the two infertile eggs, two chicks died during the first couple of days. Theses would have been removed by the mother but I failed to spot this happening.

The surviving chicks appear to be healthy this afternoon, and feather development continues to change their appearance as the tracts become broader and mainly darker.


A 4/5 day old Great Tit chick, showing details of its ear, 9 May

Important structures that eventually disappear from sight as the feathers develop are the chick's ears.

While the adult doesn't have the external ear that we humans have, you can clearly see a fold of skin behind the ear canal of this chick.

With the air temperature still cold, the chicks stay huddled together nearly all the time between visits.



Watching them in my black clothes and balaclava reminded me that in past nesting seasons I  would have been too hot during many of these sessions - today I was glad to be wearing them!

The female Great Tit keeps her chicks warm on a cold day, 9 May


While I was watching the chicks their mother turned up after a 15 minute outing, but brought no food with her. She spent just a few seconds checking the chicks before settling onto them, tucking herself deep into the nest cup.


The female Great Tit keeps her chicks warm on a cold day - view from above, 9 May



This was the view via the mirror as she spread herself to cover the chicks.


The female Great Tit keeps her chicks warm on a cold day - cctv image, 9 May


By the time I got back to the house she had turned around and had settled to one side of the nest cup in a rather lop-sided pose, something that she has done numerous times today.


The Great Tit chicks (4/5 day old) beg for food, 9 May



The next time the female left I spent another short session watching the chicks. Again, most of the time they remained in a huddle, but the chirp of an adult from just outside had three of them stretching up.

I decided not to take photographs during the visit, but it was the female with a green caterpillar.


A Great Tit chick (4/5 day old) begs for food, 9 May


In the few pictures that I took before the adult entered the box, I was able to record the developing breast feathers.

You can already see the bands of yellow feather tracts, and also the first indications of the central band of dark feathers - I think it's far too soon to look at that and suggest if this chick is male or female!



The Swifts had another late start. One of the pair took a look out of the exit at around 8.26am but it was 9.39/9.40am when the pair headed out for a very sort time, returning just five minutes later. It was 11.07am when they left for the rest of the day.

The first Swift headed into the box this evening at 7.32pm, leaving again at 8pm. The first to return for the night entered the box at 8.23pm, with its partner returning at 8.30pm.

There has been no change in the behaviour of the Sparrows today, and tonight the male is roosting in its usual spot in House Martin nest 2.


10 May - What a difference a night can make! This morning there is hardly a cloud in the sky, and while the annoying, chilly breeze is still present, the clouds are approaching more from the east than the north.

Today's first report comes from the House Martin nests where there was a lot of activity before 10am this morning, mainly in nest 1 (nearest the external camera).

The female Sparrow shuffles in Martin box 1, 10 May


Here, the female shuffles in nest 1while the male perches on the external camera, obscuring the view of that nest.

I didn't get around to putting a shelf over the camera as I had intended. If I see that all is quiet later I may do that job today before the camera suffers any damage.


The Sparrows leave straw in Martin box 1, 10 May



They have started to bring nesting material in,


The Sparrows mate in Martin box 1, 10 May



and at around 9am mating took place twice while the female was spending time shuffling those first bits into place.



Assuming that they are now serious about nesting in there, it will be interesting to see how well they cope with such a cramped living space. I wonder how long it will be before the camera view is obstructed - there isn't much space available to build a canopy over the nest, but I'm sure they will try!

(Diary entry completed on the 11th)

A disappointing update to that early report - Activity at the nests stopped at just before 11am. This isn't unusual, and so at just before noon I took advantage of their absence to put a small piece of timber as a bridge over the external camera. I only needed to be up the ladder for a couple of minutes and no Sparrows appeared around the corner of the house while I was there.

However, during the rest of the day there was no further Sparrow activity around the Martin boxes, with neither bird choosing to roost there overnight.


The five Great it chicks were fed fairly regularly during the day, with the first feed happening at 5.32am. However, during my brief visit in the late afternoon it was obvious that they were very hungry, with long gaps occuring between feeds. During my twenty minute stay the only parental visit I saw was by the mother, who turned up without food. I decided against taking any photographs once she was present and left the box.



With the chicks now 5/6 days old,  the pink flesh of  their wings now completely hidden by the developing feathers, with the flight feathers firmly encased in sheaths at this stage.


A Great Tit chick (5/6 days old) begs for food this afternoon, 10 May




The chicks are now able to stretch well above the top of the nest cup as they beg for food,


A Great Tit chick (5/6 days old) shows its breast feathers as it begs for food, 10 May




and when they do it exposes the state of development of its breast feathers.




The Swifts first looked out at 7.45 and then 8.05am, and left together at 8.52am. After being out all day, one of then returned at 7.02pm and left again at 7.50pm before the pair returned for the night at just before 8pm.


11 May - Apart form the odd bright period we are under mainly grey skies again today. At approaching 1pm it is just 9C outside, with a northerly breeze.

I'm afraid that the Sparrows do appear to have abandoned their intentions for the Martin nest. There has not been a single visit seen this morning.

wood protection in place over House Martin external camera, 11 MayI have to accept that it could have been my fault, although I am a bit surprised as the Sparrows are very used to seeing my ladder in place quite near their nest boxes all through the year. And the piece of timber actually provides a perch without being a major obstruction to their movements.

The cameras will continue to monitor the situation. In the meantime the empty Swift boxes are still available should the Sparrows choose to use them.


Other commitments may mean that there will not be an addition to the diary today, and I will probably need to catch up with the large images over the next day or so.

I have taken a few pictures of the Great Tit chicks but will not be processing them until tomorrow. However, there is a great bit of news concerning the Swifts that cannot wait -

The Swifts in SW(upper) left the box at 8.19am and stayed away all day. The first of the pair returned at 6.24pm with a small feather in its beak, the first time I've seen this happen this Spring. It spent the next twenty minutes working the feather into the existing nest before settling down.

A Swift returns to Swift nest (left) for the first time this year, 11 May


Then, while I was distracted by TV coverage of the post-election shenanigans in London, at 7.42pm a Swift entered Swift box (left).

Last year, when this was still a Starling box it was occupied in late June by a non-breeding pair of Swifts.


All three Swifts in their boxes tonight, 11 May


Confirmation that this was a third Swift came at 7.50pm when the second Swift returned to SW(upper).

The arrival of the Swift in SW (left) is great news, and I must now look forward to it being joined by its partner in the near future.



The 'new  arrival' Swift in Swift box (left) tonight, 11 MayOne characteristic that made it possible to distinguish between the Swift pair in that box last year was a white spot on the head of the male, which I subsequently referred to as 'White Spot' in my notes!

Tonight I do not have a particularly good image of the new arrival, but it certainly appears to have several white marks (feathers) on its head. In tomorrow's morning light I should get a greater picture.


There has to be a down side to this good news. It may be stretching things to compare it with event in London, but between 10am and noon a male Sparrow made repeated visits to Swift box (left). These visits included inspections of the old nest as well as displays at the entrance, and a female entered several times. It seems that their hope of occupying this box has been thwarted - no chance of a coalition here!

With two boxes now in use by Swifts I need to abbreviate the box labels, and from now on I will refer to the upper, occupied box at the front corner of the house as SW(UP), with the lower box being SW(LO), and the converted Starling boxes as SW(L) and SW(R).


12 May - On a bright, sunny but very cold morning, there is a very mixed story developing in the nest boxes.

The 'new arrival' Swift in Swift box (left) this morning, showing the white spots on its head, 12 May

The morning light has revealed that the latest Swift to arrive has at least five white spots on its head.

This morning it made its first trip out of SW(L) at 6.40am, staying out for just five minutes. It left again at 8.54am



The male Sparrow inspects Swift box (right) this morning, 12 May


While that Swift was still in the corner of SW(L), next door in SW(R) the male Sparrow appears to be trying again.

There was actually a single visit made to House Martin nest 3 early this morning, but after that all the male's  activity was focused on the Swift boxes, including just one occasion when it took a very brief look into SW(L)!


The Sparrow pair in Swift box (right) at noon, 12 May


The possibility that the Sparrows may move in was reinforced at noon when the male Sparrow's mate joined him to take a look at the ready-made nest in SW(R)!

That ring is made out of long grass that I harvested last summer.



The Swifts in SW(UP) left that box for a few minutes at 6.54am, then rested again before leaving for the day at 8.18am.

At this point I must temper my excitement about 'new' Swift, and turn to what appears to be a disaster at the bottom of the garden.

The Great Tit female prepares to abandon her chicks at 5.54am , 12 MayAs usual, the female Great Tit kept the chicks warm through the night, and as dawn approached she started to move about. Then, at 5.54am, with the temperature outside no higher than 2C, she left the box. Since then (written at 1.55pm) there have been no visits to the box by either parent.

The chicks still have the energy to stretch up and gape, but I can only assume at this point that they have been abandoned today - a bitter disappointment.


I need to look through yesterday's recording to see what happened then. In particular I want to see if the male was bringing in food.

I have just carried out that task, and it makes interesting reading. Yesterday, the female Great Tit left the box for the first time at 5.26am, and was back in with food at 5.33am. During the rest of the day the chicks were brought a further 127 feeds - all by the female. It seems that something must have happened to her partner. Unfortunately I have needed to erase the recording from two days ago, so I cannot pinpoint the males final visit, although he was definitely involved in feeding two days ago.

The female managed  to do not only all the hunting, but also spent over twenty sessions sitting on the chicks. The final feed of the day came at 7.22pm, but it was 8.09pm before she returned for the night.

An unexpected Great Tit update - The mother has returned! She suddenly reappeared at just after 7pm and after some fussing has settled on the chicks, although I fear that her return is too late for at least a couple of them. Now I am really puzzled.


The Great Tit female returns at the end of the day , 12 May

The only clue I can see is that she is holding her right wing as though it may be injured, although at this stage I'm not sure if is her attempt to cover the chicks. She didn't bring food in with her so I suspect that despite her presence the surviving chicks are likely to die overnight.

She remained in place after the lights went out and it looks as though she will be staying for the night.


I have now caught up with the big pictures again, and later in the day I hope to change the webcam to cover all four Swift boxes for a while, as long as the individual images don't prove too small to be useful. - I left that task too late and as I fiddled with the spaghetti junction of cables I nearly missed the Great Tit's return. Perhaps I shall try again tomorrow, earlier in the day....


13 May - Another sunny, cold start with the temperature down below 2C before dawn,

and the inevitable, sad end to the Great Tit nesting. The female remained in the box overnight, but by 4am she was sleeping in the corner, away from the nest cup. At 4.50am she returned to it briefly before heading for the exit, leaving behind her dead chicks. She didn't look to be in very good condition herself, so I can but hope that she can recover.

With the male already missing I'd be surprised if the nest were to be used for a second brood, but just in case I shall remove the chicks from it this morning.

Perhaps the cold is affecting the Sparrows too. So far this morning I have seen no activity by them in or around the unoccupied Swift boxes - in fact the only activity recorded today involved a male Sparrow taking a length of straw into SW(LO) at 5.26pm.

As for the Swifts, the pair in SW(UP) left briefly at 6.57am. They were back in by 7.04am and are still huddled together at 8.25am. They left for the day at 8.36am, returning this evening at 6.55pm, when they stayed for just over half an hour before leaving again. The first of the pair returned for the night at 8.30pm, with its partner returning at 8.45pm.

'White Spots' left SW(L) at 7.05am for about 6 minutes, and then headed out again at 7.52am.  It returned for nearly twenty minutes at 11.54am and then at 2.03pm it brought a feather into SW(L), staying for eleven minutes. This evening it returned for the night at 6.46pm.

By this evening the winds had swung round towards the south south-west , which could mean more sightings of Swifts and Martins during the remainder of the week. It is particularly frustrating to see the prospect of improving weather come just too late for the Great Tits again. At least last year when this happened both parents were available to start a second, successful brood.

Late this afternoon I took the decision to remove the dead chicks for the Great Tit nest, in the slim chance that a second brood could be produced. However, tonight the box is unoccupied.


14 May - And at last the clouds coming from the south, although it has been rather cool, with a sometimes quite strong breeze.

The Great Tit female hunting under the Hawthorn, 14 May



I must start with the Great Tit. This afternoon I saw the female for the first time since she left the box yesterday morning. She was foraging low down amongst the plants between the veranda and the Hawthorn, and looking very uncomfortable.



The Great Tit female with indications of an injured leg - under the Hawthorn, 14 May


When she returned to the box for the last time two nights ago she was flicking her right wing out in a way that I thought may have been down to an injury.

Watching her this afternoon confirmed this, although it looks as though the damage has been to her right leg. In this rather shaky picture you can just make out that she is having to balance on her left leg - which is why she needed to use her right wing to balance when moving around in the nest.



Male House Sparrow in the Swifts' nest this afternoon, 14 MayOn the basis of 'while the cat's away, the mice do play', today I have seen lots of activity in SW(UP) by the male Sparrow. He has been working on the nest, bringing in  straw and rearranging things in the box. I haven't seen the female in there as yet.

As is often the case with pictures grabbed via one of my recorders, the time at the top left gives the elapsed time since recording started at 4am - in other words the image was captured at 1.35pm. As I write this at just before 4pm the male has just left after another session of 'straw pulling'.

The day's recordings confirmed that it also paid single visits to SW(LO) and SW(LE) during the day.

My apologies if the webcam has been a bit murky today. This morning I decided to switch off the Great Tit cameras and associated equipment, and I took the opportunity to reorganise once more the spaghetti of cabling next to the computer. In the course of that I connected the webcam feed to the wrong place so that it received only half the signal strength it should have done. Hopefully all is well with it again this evening, just as 'White Spots' arrived back. I'm afraid that I can't do anything about the thick black band that appears around three sides of the webcam image. This appears to be a product of the processor when in quad image mode.


The Swifts from the two boxes seemed to have quite different days. The pair from SW(UP) left at 7.53am and didn't return until just before 7pm. They left again at 7.46pm before returning for the night separately, at 8.44 and 8.57pm.

'White Spots' seems to be waiting for its partner to arrive. It left for the first time at 6.44am but was back in four minutes later. During the day it returned another four times (staying a total of 144 minutes), before it returned for the night at 6.04pm.

I was outside for a while this evening, while only 'White Spot' was in its box, and there were five Swifts flying about, along with a single House Martin. While the winds have swung around, they have also come almost to a standstill this evening. It looks as though things may pick up tomorrow and I'll be looking out for what the winds may bring.


- Click on the images to see larger versions -

2010 Nestbox Diary Index .......... .................................  ..May (part 4)