Wildlife in Watercolour

The Devon Artist

Our Great Tit Family – Part 4

Watercolour illustration of a Great Tit bird
Great Tit amongst spindleberry

Things are moving on with our little family. Should you have missed their story so far, here are the links to Part 1Part 2 and Part 3. We think the Great Tit chicks are now nearly ready to fledge.
It can take between 15 and 22 days for chicks to fledge and throughout that time the parents work tirelessly 24/7. Indeed, we captured the following footage around midnight. We were fascinated by the lengths Mum went to in order to keep her nest tidy, clean and hygienic.

Housework

She removed the carefully placed faecal sac around 5 in the morning. By this time, feeding had already resumed after her broken night’s sleep! In this next clip, she is again tidying, and it means rooting around under the chicks. She simply turfs them out of the nest as she hoovers up underneath them! In fact, you may notice that we are down to just 3 chicks in the next clip. We even suspect that at some point she took the dead chick out too. We’ve certainly seen blue tits do this, and as far as we can see the fourth chick is not in the nest. Again, adult birds will try to remove dead chicks, it cuts down on the likelihood of pests and diseases. These in turn may affect the remaining healthy chicks.

As the chicks have got bigger and older there has definitely been an increase in wing stretching and preening. The first sign of the feathers forming is when what are called pins emerge. These are also known as ‘blood feathers’ – both simply names for developing feathers. Gradually the preening helps to remove the waxy coating and the feather starts to emerge. In our next clip you can see that the feather is perhaps half showing on the wings. All the stretching and flapping helps to build up muscle strength for the chicks first flight. In addition, it probably shakes off all the ‘feather bits’ too!

Amazing changes

The increase in the size of the chicks is quite phenomenal in such a short space of time. Our camera does distort sizes slightly, but the chicks are definitely much, much bigger. You can see their characteristic feather markings starting to develop. The black heads and the bars on their wings showing quite clearly.

With just 3 chicks to feed, we thought the odds may even up a bit. However, there still seems to be a chick which is slightly smaller than all the rest. We do still wonder whether the prolonged period of hatching over the 36 hours was the start of this difference in chick size. Without a camera on the box, we would never have known that the hatching took so long. Indeed, in small birds like this we didn’t expect it.

However, our woodland boxes are also a bit ‘odd’ this year. There are lots of whole broods not making it. And the broods that are surviving have generally only had low numbers of chicks fledging. It has been suggested that the parents didn’t time the hatching with the emergence of the oak tree caterpillars. These are their main staple food for feeding their young and that food has been scarce. We can only ponder and hope that our data alongside all the other nest data submitted enables the BTO to form a clearer picture of what may have been the challenges for birds this year.

We will finish this week’s blog on a high note the Great Tit chicks are definitely nearly ready to fledge. It is a bit dark in the corner, but there are still 3 in there. So fingers are crossed for a happy outcome for these 3.
Do enjoy your weekend, and I’ll catch you all next week for the final instalment……
Paul 😉

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46 Responses

      1. I have a nest box where, in previous years, pairs only used for roosting. This year a pair are obviously feeding their babies. I’m now upset at not having installed a camera! I have searched but there are so many for sale and don’t trust reviews on websites. Can you let me know the make of your one please.

        1. Hi Alice, we have had th same problem this year where blue tits nested within a box that we didn’t have a camera in, very frustrating to say the least. :-/
          Yes, there are quite a lot of nest box cameras out there, and the prices depend on both quality and whether or not the camera is wireless or not. I use wired cameras, so I have to bring the cables into the house through and air brick or a small hole I’ve drilled through the wall. Wireless cameras are good but you still need a power supply nearby the camera to give it power. You then connect a reciever box to the back of the tele and as long as the camera isn’t too far away, you should get a good picture on one of your AV channels.
          This is the camera I prefer to use, it’s wired so you will need a good length of cable depending on where you wish to place it. https://gardenature.co.uk/products/product-700tvl-camera-only
          We also have a DVR CCTV box where we can attach eight cameras to it and record via movement only what takes place, not cheap and only something you buy if you decided to go that far. https://amzn.to/3BYayIx
          Whatever camera you choose, you can move it into say a hedgehog nesting box, or a log cut of with food for a mouse and so on, there are so many ideas out there.

          I hope this helps and good luck for next years nestings, Paul 🙂

    1. This is great and very informative. We are on day 16 of our Great Tits since they hatched and luckily we qstill have 8 of the original 9 with us. Fingers crossed .

        1. We’ve had tits nesting in 1 of our bird boxes , mam and dad been feeding their young , but no sign of them in the lasy few days do you think the young have flown.

          1. Hi Karry, if you have seen the adults feeding the young at least for the past couple of so weeks, the chances are the young have fledged. You may spot them around as the adults continue to feed them outside of the nest. 🙂

    2. Hi, brilliant news, some of the Great Tits did actually fledge a few days ago. I was so busy focussing on the box, that I didn’t realise they had fledged, presumably very early one morning. There were possibly 2 or three by the sound of them in the garden, but one definitely seen being fed several times. So relieved and delighted!

        1. Thanks Paul and now are able to enjoy them flying from bush to bush and there seem to be 3 to 4, still being fed. Great joy just now that a parent came on to the bird table and feed one of the young ones a bit of bread crumb!

  1. Great explanation. It has helped me to understand what is going on. I have 5 chicks and a very tired mum and dad. I think they are ready to fledge. How do I know?

  2. Hi. First time with a nest box in my gardens silver birch and success as a pair of great tits take up residence. I’ve watched the female build her nest, the male feed the sitting female and both work tirelessly to feed the young. It’s been a joy to hear the young getting louder by the day but even though they were in full voice yesterday evening this morning it’s all quiet and the adults have disappeared. Is it possible the young could have all now left the nest so quickly or should I be worried something has gone wrong.

    1. Yes exactly the same thing has just happened here, I am so sad as I had waited 10 years for birds to finally take up residence.
      No-one seems to have answered Steve’s question ie could they have just quietly fledged without our noticing? Seems highly unlikely and I guess that although very loud the day before yesterday, nothing yesterday or today.

      1. Hi Monika, yes I know, this does happen from time to time, apparently it can vary depending on the weather, food availablity for the young, one of the adults sadly no longer being around, Sparrowhawks and so on. But yres, some young will fledge without you knowing, unless you have a bird camera set up recording, we wouldnn’t know if they fledged at first light. Also seeing the adults feeding them continuously during the day is obvoously a good sign. Sometimes though nests can be predated by a variety of culprits, which is very sad but the way things sometimes go.

  3. We have been watching 5 great tut chicks … in the last few days there was even more feeding frenzy and wing stretching.. last night at 11 they were all tucked up and this morning they were all gone…hopefully they all made it !

  4. My great Tits have successfully reared 7 chicks six have fledged one is still in nesting box Do you know if they will continue to feed it looks healthy. They started with 10 babies

    1. Hi Sue, from what we have experienced it’s hit and miss. The adults will be busy still feeding the young ouitside the box, but fingers crossed they will still be popping in to encourage the one left to leave.

  5. Hello! This is 3rd time lucky for our great tit best box. Previous years, unfortunately, chicks have not made it to flegding. Once was down losing a parent and the mum tried her best for a few days. The 2nd time were not sure why but the nest was abandoned after around 5 days after hatching. We’re on day 10 and mum and dad still going so strong and chicks are getting louder so keeping fingers crossed. Once chicks fledge do they still return to nest for a few days or is that it?

    1. Hi Sarah, I am so pleased to hear your Great Tit family is doing well this year. Yes, we know what it’s like to find abandoned nests and dead young. As for the young returning to the nest once fledged, in our experience they don’t, we do have cameras in some of our boxes and have never seen this. This also applies to the Blue Tits as well, but some birds do return for a while for roosting, I’m guessing Wrens may do this. Mind you, it’s rare, but some Great Tit pair occasionally have a second brood, now that would be good. Paul

      1. Thanks Paul. We haven’t had chance to get our camera box up yet so worried I’ll miss the chicks when they finally leave the nest. Some great videos you’ve captured!

  6. We had 9 eggs, 8 eggs hatched by 1st of May. Parents still feeding the 8 chicks 15 days later, will they survive?

    1. Hi Stan, it’s difficult to say, as this can depend on a number of factors, such as weather, food supply, adult health and so on. With the parents still feeding the chicks, there’s a good chance they will be ok, so I will keep my fingers crossed for you. Hopefully they should fledge soon, and on a nicebright sunny day. You should then spot the fledgelings flapping their wings like crazy trying to get Mum and dad to bring them food in the garden. 🙂

  7. We have a camera in a nesting box for the first time this year, and it’s been a fascinating, if sad at times, journey. We started out with our Great tit laying 9 eggs, all hatched in a day, and all was well. Gradually though they began to die off, today (day16) we were down to 3 chicks, 1 big bully, 1 a bit smaller and one who we saw did not get fed at all today. Sadly we just came back from shopping to see her dead up the corner of the nest. The other 2 are flapping their wings etc. think they are gearing up to fledge in the next few days. Would not believe how hard the adult birds work if I hadn’t seen. Just hope we don’t miss the 2 that are left leaving the nest.

    1. I’m so sorry to hear that Sue, but yes, sadly the fatality rate for Great Tits can be sometimes quite high. We find this when checking our nest boxes, currently over 70 to report for the BTO and this does happen every year with various species. I do hope the last two fledge ok.

  8. We’ve just discovered 3 great tits in a nesting box that we thought was unused – we think they’re ready to fledge but… the garden has been plagued the last few days by corvids…Will the babies be able to fly as soon as they leave the box? Is there anything we can do to prevent them becoming a tasty snack for these monsters (short of being on guard from dawn onwards, which I note tomorrow will be at 4:04). Thanks!

    1. Hi Frances, as long as the box is deep enough from the exit hole, the fledglings shouldn’t leave until they are strong enought to get up to the hole. By which time they will most likely be strong enough to head for cover with the bushes nearby, where the parents should continue to feed them. I used the BTO nest box plan which gives you their recommended sizing, and due to this out of the approximately 150 bird boxes I’ve made so far, I can’t remember an instant where we have seen this happen. There’s no guarantee, but at least you can give them a fighting chance. https://www.bto.org/how-you-can-help/providing-birds/putting-nest-boxes-birds/make-nest-box

  9. Hi Paul, we had 6 great tit eggs laid on 14th March. They hatched on 26th April. We went away on holiday, but when we cam back on 6th May the nest was empty. Is it possible that they fledged after just 12 days. If not what could possibly have happened? Can predators get in the box?

    1. Hi Marian, I have to admit it is unlikely that they fledged after just two weeks. It is usually around three weeks after hatching before the fledglings leave the nest. It is possible the nest had been predated be it by a woodpecker or a mustelid such as a stoat, weasel etc. But the weather has been good so it’s truely hard to say, but if that is the case as we know it’s nature and happens quite a lot. Paul

  10. Enjoyed reading this! I need advice! I have a nesting box in my garden with a camera inside. I’ve been watching with great delight. Family of great tits. They were eight in total, but one got out of the nest cup when he was very small with no feathers. Unfortunately I was not around at the time and he couldn’t get back in and died. The other seven were doing very well and the parents were very attentive. Then one day I noticed the parents hadn’t been for the whole of the day and the crying of the chicks was pitiful. There must’ve been an accident with one of the parents and the other abandon the nest as the chicks had a reasonable amount of feathers I thought I might be able to carry on the parents work I brought the box indoors and took off the top and started to feed the chicks with mealworms. I realise the importance of keeping the nesting area clean which was quite difficult in the confines of the small box, so I got a large cardboard box and inside, placed a smaller box which I lined with plenty of Kitchen towel. I continued feeding the chicks with live mealworms from the local pet shop. I had watched the mother deal with them, so I just copied this. I had two long pairs of tweezers which I use to remove the faecal sac every time they have upended themselves, which is immediately after they have eaten their first meal worm! The other pair of tweezers are used to feed them. They have grown into strong, healthy, great tits. Now I am at the stage where I’m wondering what is the best way to release them to give them the best chance. There will be no parents to feed them as they learn to and take their own food from the trees and bushes. I know it’s at about 22 days from hatching. They hatched on 24/25 April. I would appreciate any advice.

    1. Hi Lynda, what an amazing thing you have done rearing the young Great Tit chicks, that is simply amazing and well done indeed! We have never reared young birds ourselves so we can’t advise on what to do when releasing them, presumably the parent would still feed them once out of the nest as well. Our advice would be to contact your local wildlife hospital a.s.a.p and gain their knowledge on this. But one thing for sure, you are one amazing person Lynda.
      Paul

  11. We have a box with 8 great tit babies who are around 15 days old. Mum and dad have done a great job rearing them but think mum is worn out as we had 9 heads in there for at least a couple of hours.

  12. I am so glad I found this page, reading everyone’s experience with great tits is lovely. We have a camera in a box, last year the mother didn’t stay in the nest over night 5 days after hatching. The chicks didn’t have enough feathers to keep warm and all 5 died. So sad. But this year mum laid 14 eggs, 8 hatched and are doing very well, mum still stays in the nest overnight, even after 13 days after hatching. I expect them to fledge this coming week as they are bursting out of the nest cup! So lovely to watch, and as others have said, the parents are totally dedicated.

    1. 14 eggs! Now that is certainly some clutch there Angela. I’m so please this year has gone well for your nest box cam, we personally know how it feels when you see a nest fail and young don’t survive, but that’s of course the way nature works. I think the adults will continue to feed them for a couple of weeks once they have fledged, plus there’s aleways that anticipation from ourselves when we are watching and waiting for the final young one to go, it can take forever! LOL

  13. Our camera box is in it’s 4th year – 2 successful then an abandonment and this year mum disappeared on day 14 and we’re in agony helplessly watching 9 healthy chicks waiting to die.

    1. We have had the same thing happen as well, but as we know this is sadly how things go with the birds. One of the parents may have been caught by say a Sparrowhawk, or the food supply just isn’t there for them. Many birds such as Great and Blue Tits do very often depend on the oak leaf catapillar, and if that’s not around in abundance then the future for some nest isn’t that great. Sadly it’s just the natural cycle of life, fingers crossed your nest box will have a sucessful yewar next time around.
      Just to note, after September when we are able to clean out all the nest boxes, sometimes we add an extension to a nest box camera cable and move into a ground feeding box where then see hedgehogs, bank voles, shrews and so one, some more so during the winter. Paul

    2. Hi Tom Arthur here over in County Antrim we had the same think last year it’s so sad when this happens but this year we have 6 health chicks about a week away from fledging then we can finally get some jobs done

  14. Hi Paul, I would be extremely grateful for your advice. I have four Great Tits fledgling today, one is much smaller than the others. I’m worried that the parents are going to leave it in the nest. If this happens, should I intervene and try to finish raising it?

    1. Hi Mhairi, that’s a tricky one to answer and to be honest the answer is an individual thing. We are not supposed to interfere with a nest no matter the situation. The only time we look into a nest is when we are recording the info for BTO’s nest recording scheme., i know, handy having a camera within the box, we have as well 🙂 If it was me I would sadly leave it, even though it would break my heart to see it deteriorate. There’s always a runt within the clutch and I’m sure you know this happens in many bird species. So yes, I would hate to say I would leave it, I know I’m not supposed to get in the way of nature taking it’s course. You never know though, the parents may continue to feed it, even though the ones that have already fledged will be very demanding for them for a little while longer outside of the nest.
      I’m sorry I can’t help much more than this, Paul

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