Our Great Tit Family – Part 4

Great Tit chicks nearly ready to fledge,. this is a watercolour painting of an adult Great Tit and spindleberries
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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