Hatching a plan: blue tits on birdbox-cam after five years!

Bluetits in nesting boxFive years ago I bought my mum and dad a bird-box with an infrared video camera inside for Christmas. Hopes were high that very first Spring, as they installed the box on a tall wooden post in the back garden and hooked the camera up to their TV. They’d turn expectantly to the bird-cam channel every day, but could never see so much as a feather inside.

Three years ago they moved it to the wall of the house, in the back garden, but still with no joy. Almost resigned to the fact this box was not destined for bird-birth, they moved it to a more sheltered position high on the side of the house last year…and this March, they spotted a female blue tit inside for the very first time!

After checking the bird-box out for a few days, she soon started building her nest, starting with moss and dry grasses, and finishing it off with softer materials like feathers. Female blue tits build the nest all by themselves, and can take up to two weeks, but our busy female whipped hers up in only five days.

We’d still seen no sign of the male by the time she started laying her eggs, laying one a day until we could count a total of 11 in the nest.  Blue tits have one of the largest clutches of any bird, and have been known to lay up to 16, but we were still very impressed by 11. The combined weight of the eggs would likely be more than she weighs herself.

With all her eggs laid by the start of May, she then began to incubate them, and we saw the male for the first time – flying into the box to proffer caterpillars and insects for her to eat. The female seemed to wish the entrance-hole to the box was a bit bigger, as she often tapped around it like a woodpecker.

My folks were away in Greece during the critical hatching period, but they came back to see eight chicks hatched and hungry, being fed by a very industrious pair of new parents. Apparently the young hatch at a time when food is most abundant, which is rather clever. Each chick can eat up to 100 caterpillars a day, which certainly kept the parents busy…

Though eight chicks were spotted, a couple of those died early on – which is often the case with a large clutch. Here’s the slightly gory moment the female tries to remove the carcass of a dead one from the nest, but can’t get it out through the hole (and the moment my three and six-year-old nieces realise something might be amiss with the “poorly” one):

The feeding continued for almost three weeks, by which time the five remaining chicks were looking nice and fluffy – and so big that it was hard to tell them apart from the adults. Sadly, without a camera on the exterior of the box, we’ll never know quite how well they fared in their inaugural flights – but the fact there were no tiny bodies splatted on the flagstones below is a good sign.

Young chicks are expected to stay with their parents for a few weeks after fledging, though they haven’t been seen in our garden since they left the nest. We left extra peanuts out, to be on the safe side.

With around 3.6 million breeding pairs of blue tits in the UK, the blue tit might seem a bit Z-list compared to a lovely fat bullfinch or a rare house sparrow, but we’d be happy to see Mr and Mrs Busy the Blue tits (as my niece has christened them)IMG_2653 back again next year. And since blue tits tend to stray only a few miles from where they were born, there’s definitely a chance.

What had been a rather failed Christmas present five years ago now ranks as one of the best Christmas presents ever, and I’d definitely recommend a bird-cam box as a gift for wildlife lovers.

Choose a high wall way from the house, which is sheltered from the sun and wind. And make sure the box is well out of reach of any feline friends….Watching a nestful of baby birds live on the TV screen was distracting for my parents’ cats, to say the least. Here’s how mesmerised by nature programmes Lucy normally is…

Lucy watching wildlife programmes

 

 

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