Our Great Tit Family – Part 4

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

She removed the carefully placed faecal sac around 5 in the morning when feeding had already resumed after her broken night’s sleep! In this next clip she is again tidying, even if this means rooting around under the chicks and turfing 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 and we 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 affecting the remaining healthy ones.

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 and probably shakes off all the ‘feather bits’ too!

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 and you can see their characteristic feather markings – the black heads and the bars on their wings developing and showing out 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 – and indeed in small birds like this we didn’t expect it. However, our woodland boxes are also a bit ‘odd’ this year, lots of whole broods not making it, and the broods that are surviving – there are generally only low numbers of chicks left to fledge. It has been suggested that the parents didn’t time the hatching with the emergence of the oak tree caterpillars which 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 and chicks that look like they are on the verge of fledging. 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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