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 😉

Our Great Tit Family – Part 3

For those of you following the lives of our Great Tit family in the bird box on our gate post, here is the next instalment in their little lives. It is amazing the changes that have happened in a week. Both parents have continued to feed on a regular basis, a range of tasty treats – well I have to say that even to me, someone who likes his food, some look less tasty than others!
No matter what is being brought in for breakfast, dinner, tea, supper or even a snack in between – there is always the same reaction from the 4 little chicks……

It is amazing just how far they can stretch those bendy little necks in their bid for the food. In the first few days their heads were a bit too heavy for their necks, but now their muscles are definitely strengthening up. Survival of the fittest is happening right in front of our eyes. The longer the reach the more likely you are to get the food. We do wonder about the little chick that hatched 36 hours behind the first, he or she is bound to be slightly smaller and will forever be playing catch up. We have our fingers crossed.
Sometimes when feeding we notice the parent bird trying the food in different beaks before putting it into one. We did wonder if with a juicy snack whether they are squeezing a bit of juice into each beak, or maybe they are seeing which chick hangs on to the food with the most strength and this is the one that gets it? Do you know? Leave me a comment if you do.
Anyway, I am sure that you are wanting to see what fine dining experience was next on offer……

You will of course have noticed that what goes in has to come out! Great Tit nestlings are one species that produce faecal sacs – a mucus membrane that surrounds the faeces. This allows the parent bird to easily remove the waste material from the nest. Nestlings will produce the sac within seconds of being fed, or sometimes the parent will encourage production by doing a bit of ‘prodding’!! Great Tit chicks indicate that they are about to produce a sac by raising their bottoms in the air. Other species we monitor deposit the sac on the edge of the nest for removal – it can lead to a bit of an unpleasant build up as the season goes on…
On that note, I’ll sign off for this week. We have a long weekend here in the UK with Bank Holiday, so plenty of time for getting outside and enjoying the wildlife, but I’ll of course be back on here next week to update you on our little family. 😉 Paul

Find Part One – here
Find Part Two – here

Our Great Tit Family – Part 2

I am hoping that you enjoyed the first part of our Great Tit family’s saga, should you have missed it, check the previous blog post out here. Thought I would give you a little update on their progress so far. The female was a really good Mum and continued to brood her eggs almost constantly whilst the male kept her well fed with tasty caterpillars and such like. Then on the evening of day 12…….

…..great excitement for us as we spotted a tiny pink, naked chick! Mum and Dad remained as attentive as usual and carefully started to feed the chick. Given that the eggs are just 18mm (0.7″) long – you can imagine how tiny the chick is! Sometimes the food brought in was just too big – which meant Mum and Dad had to polish it off themselves, but it is amazing how big a meal the little ones can take!
We remained alert to the cameras, and over the period of 36 hours a further 3 chicks hatched out.

This was interesting behaviour, we were aware that parents will take the hatched egg shells away from their nest, this keeps the nest clean and hygienic and dropping the shell a distance from the nest confuses predators too. We were not really aware that the shells were eaten, although it makes perfect sense for the female to eat the shell to replenish her diminished calcium supplies. Female birds do indeed look for snail shells prior to laying in order to increase their calcium levels. There is an interesting article on this behaviour here.

Let’s see what next week brings for our little family, I’ll definitely edit up some more chick footage for you all – we can never get enough of cute little chicks!
Have a lovely weekend, let’s hope the weather stays dry and we can all get out and enjoy the wildlife wherever we live.
Have fun! Paul