The Robins - Week 4

A Summary of Weeks 1 to 3

Nest building started on Thursday 15 June and was more or less completed the next day. Saturday saw very little activity at the nest. The first egg was laid at around 8.20am on Sunday morning and each subsequent morning saw another until the fourth egg was laid on Wednesday 21 June. From Friday, the male made a visit early each morning, bringing food for the female.

On Thursday 22 June, after leaving the nest several times before 9am, the female surprised us by laying a fifth egg before 9.30am. Since then she has spent nearly all the time incubating the eggs, only leaving the nest for short periods to feed. The male is staying nearby and always appears when the female feeds. In addition he seems to be taking food away to perhaps feed offspring from a previous brood(?).

Incubation of the eggs continued until, on Tuesday 4 July four hatched out during the afternoon. The fifth egg hatched the next morning. Since then the days have been punctuated by feeding sessions which take place every 30 -50 minutes at the moment.

Thursday 6 July - An overcast morning (16C at 9am). The night-time minimum temperature was 12C. I wonder what the TOG value of the chicks' down duvet is?

Mum returned at 4.20am while it was still dark and the male arrived with food for her ten minutes later. She stayed on the nest until 5.15am until dad returned and there was a five minute feeding period. Between then and 9am there were three more feeding sessions, with mum spending the in-between times on the nest.

The rest of the day has seen this pattern continue. At 9.50pm the female has just returned to the nest to sit on the chicks.

I have not been capturing images today but I have now set up a web cam which I hope to keep going until the young ones fly. I think there is a refresh problem for people using Netscape. If you are one of those, I apologise. I hope to correct the problem tomorrow when I find out how.

Friday 7 July- The female spent all of last night, awake soon after 4.15 and out of the nest by 4.30 am. The first feed of the day started around 4.45 and continued for about 15 minutes with both parents involved. Feeding sessions then seemed to follow at roughly half hour intervals.

Food seemed to range from the very small, greenfly sized creatures, to earthworms that appeared ridiculously large for the chicks to cope with.

We watched in amazement at one such feed. The female manouvred one end of an outsized worm into the gaping mouth of a chick. As the chick struggled to swallow it the mum would give the worms tail end a tug every so often. I was not sure whether it was trying to pull the thing out or just stretching it to make it thinner and easier(?) to swallow. This went on for a while until the end of the worm eventually disappeared into the chick's throat. Almost straight after the chick did a head stand and presented it's rear end at the side of the nest. Mum waited until a feacal sac was produced. She prompty ate it.

When I visited the bird box at lunchtime I can face to face with a wren fledgling, perched on a branch, calling to be fed. As it moved to another perch it got quite close to the robins' nest. The male robin seemed to get quite agitated and perched cloes to it and flapped his wings frantically until it moved on.

A family of starlings with young that looked as though they were on a maiden flight came into the garden this afternoon. I am afraid that one of the fledglings left the nest in the grip of the sparrowhawk. There was chaos among the bird population for a short time but things seem to get back to normal quite quickly.

The webcam is definitely causing some difficulties! I do not think I can solve the Netscape problem at present. In addition, while it is in action I cannot grap images to put into the diary, so there will have to be some deliberate 'off time'. Also I will need to go out and buy some connectors tomorrow to rearrange my camera(s) -video(s) - computer links. At the moment, if I replay a video then images from that end up on the web! Finally, and I do not blame this on the webcam, Windows 98 is playing up on my computer and I fear that a reinstallation is imminent.

Saturday 8 July - I have not been able to do a great deal of nest watching today. The parents have been keeping up the feeding as yesterday right up to late evening. However, soon after 9pm they were very upset by the presence of a cat up a tree just over the fence from the nest. Although the cat left when I approached, the female only made one brief visit to the nest after that and the nest has been left unattended since.

I must try to grab some more images from the ccd cameras as it is proving difficult to get good colour photographs of the chicks because I cannot direct or reflect the light of a flashgun onto them with enough power. I will try a faster film tomorrow. In the meantime here is one image of mum at the nest (- a low quality scan using a flatbed scanner). When there is time I will redo this scan to provide a larger, good quality image.

Sunday 9 July - A cool, damp day (16C at 1.30pm). Tending the chicks appeared to have been going on as usual this morning. I have not been around for a couple of hours and unfortunately the webcam was out of action for most of that time.

Now that I am back I have just been surprised by the brief appearance of a squatter in the nest! One of the wren fledglings sat itself on top of the chicks and spent the next couple of minutes calling for food ( and I did not catch it on video!!!!). No damage seems to have been done and the parent robins were soon feeding the chicks again.

During the afternoon it has returned twice ( video recording now), each time getting fed and then snuggling up to the chicks for a while. Has it been abandoned or lost by its parents? On a miserably gloomy day perhaps it needs the warmth. Anyway, it has the female robin very confused, although she is surprisingly tolerant towards it, reaching over it to tend to her family. I will be adding some pictures later, but I will have to stop the webcam so that I can capture the images from video. I did attempt to take some colour photographs but the female was too agitated at that time so I decided to leave her in peace.

Two quick 'grabs' to start with:

It left again at 4.50pm. It was back soon afterwards and remained until around 7.45pm. I then spent the next hour at the bottom of the garden with camera set up watching in case it returned again. I saw it a number of times in the trees and it moved about them just as any wren would. It was calling almost continuously. When I thought that it had moved on I came back inside, only to see it return once more. At 9.15pm It is now bedded down in the nest with the chicks all round it and over it! It seems to have found itself a duvet to cope with the unseasonal cold weather ( The daytime temperatures are about 6C below average). Mum has just been in with food and the wren did not attempt to take it.

In the left hand image, captured at 9.20pm you can see the pointy beak and the striped tail of the wren. Mum has just fed the chick on the right, having stretched over the wren. The right ahnd image you can just make out the banding on the stubby wings.

Monday 10 July - The family of robins has got itself an overnight addition! The wren spent the night in the nest (The female robin did not, again). It has been fed, along with the rest of the family this morning and the picture shows the extended family at 8.25am. The wren has left the nest several times so far today and at the moment (4.15pm) it is absent.

The parent robins seemed more adjusted to the situation this morning. I wonder how much longer it will stay? I cannot find any reference to this sort of behaviour in my books. I am hoping that someone will come up with an explanation for me.

I noticed the female giving the wren some gentle(?) pecks on the body this afternoon. As she also does this to her own chicks so I guess that it is not being done with agressive intent. Perhaps it is more likely a process of grooming, or perhaps I am guessing too much. Anyway, the parents are continuing to bring food at intervals as they did before the wren's arrival. The female no longer sits on the chick, although I do not think that this is the fault if the visitor.

In the intervals between feeding the male is nearly always to be found on one of a couple of leylandii branches no more than a couple of yards from the nest, appearing to be on lookout duty.

You can sometimes hear him singing quietly. If the female is not in the nest she is usually to be found perched nearer the nest, and keeping very quiet.

At 830pm it is 12C under the trees and the five chicks are just being fed. The wren left the nest a few minutes before food arrived. At just before 8.45 it is back in the nest and is gradually easing itself down into the nest cup.

At 10pm the chicks +1 are settled for the night. The parents have not been to the nest in the last half hour and there are no beaks open hoping for food, only the ocassional yawn. The wren has just opened its eyes briefly in response to a noise from outside. The chicks are now six days old and their eyes have still to open for the first time.

Some more young birds in the garden today, a couple of dunnock fledglings. Not mentioned before is a family group of five green finches. We are usually lucky if we see two.

Tuesday 11 July - A bright, breezy and sunny start today but still unseasonably cold. It is 12C at the moment (9.40am) and in the night the temperature by the nest was only 9C.

Well, the wren stayed again last night and after spending some time out of the nest earlier it is back in the flock(!) again. It is rather more restless at the moment and very alert to sounds outside.

I found yesterday that it would bolt from the nest if I went anywhere near it. For this reason I have not been able to get a colour photograph as yet. I may try again this morning, using a long remote lead and rely on tv pictures to pick the moment. As I write this the wren has just been fed a caterpillar and has left. The chicks are now getting their feed.

At 4.20pm the family is still playing host. I thought that the sunshine might have given the wren some inspiration but life is obviously too good where it is! The female is sitting at the back of the nest and the male is bringing mealworms that I have just put out at the feeding station. The wren got one and the rest are being distributed amongst the chicks. It is interesting to note that at the nest there does not seem to be any problem when the two adults are together. However, at the feeding station they only approach each other with great caution. If one is at the station the other will either stay a yard or so away or make a quick dash if it spots a mealworm a safe (?) distance from the partner.

Also, unlike the blue tits, once food is taken it may be one or two minutes before they approach the nest with it. The robin will first go down onto a surface, usually the ground and adjust the mealworms in its beak(or is it killing/tenderising them?). It then flies up into the trees and perches on a branch. If it is the male, and the female is in the nest, he will call before going to it.

After feeding the female usually pecks at the chicks' rear end. I believe this is done to stimulate the passing of faecal sacs. I have noticed her include the wren in this process but to date there has been no response ( that I have seen).

This evening the male spent a lot of time up in a tree singing while the female fed and tended the family. At 10.05pm the wren is wrapped up in its 5 Tog (sorry, chick) duvet and its eyes are more closed than open. I do not think it intends to leave tonight. The left hand picture shows it buried beneath the chicks (its head is pointing towards the top-left of the nest). Moments later it is alert to a noise outside (right pic)

No luck with the colour photographs today.

Wednesday 12 July - The co-habitation continues! At the moment the chicks have the nest to themselves (at 8.30am). After a spell of preening the wren left the nest a short while ago.

The chicks are now a week old and their increase in size is obvious. They are still surounded by that halo of down and you catch only an occasional glimpse of any body details, such as small, developing wing feathers.

This is the first image that I have captured that shows an eye open (at 9am):

At 10am the wren is in the nest. On a cold, dull but so far dry morning this must be of mutual benefit for the chicks and wren. At the moment the temperature outside the box is 16C. Interestingly it is 2C warmer there, under the blanket of trees than it is in the open nearer the house. As soon as I write this of course the wren has left again..

11am and a hungry wren is back in the nest and looking out for a food delivery:

The wren has been out of the nest more than in it today and although it was seen there earlier this evening is not on the nest at 10.50pm. Have we seen the last of it?

In response to my query on the uk.rec.birdwatching newsgroup about the wren behaviour Martin Collinson (Edinburgh University) has produced the following very helpful information:

The 'robins' nest' incident is unusual, but not unknown. Newly fledged wrens will very often seek the comfort of enclosedcrannies, especially if they're a bit nest-like, and that often leads them into other nests.  Armstrong, for example, in the New Naturalist Monograph about wrens, mentions several examples of newly-fledged wrens moving en masse into the nest of another species (although for just one bird to do it is less expected).  e.g Fledged wrens crowding into a spotted flycatcher's nest while the bird was mid-laying (sp. fly abandoned it!)

'A grotesque situation arose when a brood of young wrens settled into a hedge sparrow's nest in which a young cuckoo was being reared.  On at least six evenings the wren fledglings were found sheltering under the half-fledged cuckoo's wings.'!! A family of wrens occupied a willow warbler's nest 'not without protest from the owners'!  The WWs fledged.

And 'Eckermann, in his "Conversations with Goethe" [I've got no idea what this book is - need an educated person to help me out - Malcolm?], describes picking up two newly fledged wrens and wrapping them in his hankerchief to take home.  As he was passing through the wood they escaped.  Three days later he found them in a robin's nest being fed together with the robin's own young.  Evidently the young wrens, as they looked for a snug resting place, came upon the robin's nest, insinuated themselves and were accepted by the robin.'

Martin also informs me that "It's also recorded for birds like great tit to feed wrens which are out of the nest, if they cannot satisfy their urge to feed 'something' on their own kids". I know it is only speculation now but this may go some way to explaining why the male robin was carrying food away to an unknown destination last week (?). The wren had been 'hanging' around for several days before joining the family

Thanks for that Martin.

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The Robins - Week 1

The Robins - Week 2

The Robins - Week 3

The Robins - Week 5

Year 2000 Diary