Rich Andrews photography
Rich Andrews photography

The Blue Tits lived in a nestbox on our garage in spring 2006. Or to be more accurate, they lived in a nestbox poking out of where the garage window used to be before I boarded it up to but a nestbox in there. There's already quite a few websites with mini CCTVs or webcams set up in Blue Tit boxes, but I decided I'd rather get some nice high-res images with my digital camera. So with that in mind, I set up the nest box with a glass side on the inside of the garage. After a lot of buggering about and waiting, two Blue Tits moved in on 1st April.

After about a fortnight of bringing in beakfuls of moss and then taking it out again, the nest looked as though it was still only half-finished by mid April. By the third week though, they had built the nest up to almost half-way to the entrance hole, and the female was roosting in the box every night. During the week or so between the nest being finished and the first egg being laid, there was very little activity around the box, so I wondered if they had given up, but the first egg was laid on 18th, and the clutch of seven eggs was finished on approximately the 24th (although I found an eighth, unhatched egg when I was clearing out the box in July).

Click on the small thumbnails to see the larger images - you can follow their fate over the next three weeks, starting below:

Monday May 1st

Not much to say, really - a few pics of Mrs Blue Tit incubating and being fed by the male every now and then. Unfortunately I didn't have the inclination to install a webcam, so I haven't got any records of visits other than those I saw in the short space of time whilst taking pictures. Perhaps next year?

The male seems to be bringing in a lot of those St. Mark's flies today; luckily I was there when he made a couple of visits today. I've also uploaded a shot of the eggs - seven in all.

Thursday May 4th

Still sitting there. She seems to be bringing back pieces of small green leaves, leaving most of them lying around the nestbox - you can see some of them on the white feathers at the back of the box in the fourth photo.

I've also included a picture of the whole side of the box showing the depth of the nest - happily, Mrs Blue Tit has built her nest high enough to the entrance hole to photograph the nest in horizontal 3:2 format, which means that I don't have to contort myself between a tripod and the garage wall to get a decent shot.

Saturday May 6th

Still little activity - she's still bringing in those bits of green leaves. The male seems to be staying outside the box when he brings her food now, so not much chance for any images of them both together, although I did manage to get her leaping through the hole (more by luck than judgment!) The eggs ought to hatch in the next day or two.

Monday May 8th

DAY 1   Three of the seven eggs have hatched at some point during the day. No photos yet but they're small and pink.

Tuesday May 9th

DAY 2   There looked to be four chicks in the nest first thing this morning. Both parents were visiting with food, but the female was still sitting on them for long periods at a time. This evening there were clearly six baby birds and one unhatched egg, so if the egg is still there tomorrow I don't think it'll hatch at all. Managed a few pics this morning before work.....

Wednesday May 10th

DAY 3   This morning I couldn't count the chicks as the female was sat on them whilst I was there, but as luck would have it, at five past eight she pulled half an egg-shell out of the nest-cup, ate it and sat back down again (photo three) - I suspect it was the seventh egg hatching. This evening there did appear to be a smaller chick in amongst the wriggling pink and yellow mass! The older chicks are now beginning to give very faint calls - for the first day or two they are inaudible.

Thursday May 11th

DAY 4   Still all present and correct this morning - the older chicks are two or three times bigger than they were on Monday so I'm beginning to be able to get some better pics of them now. The seventh bird that appeared to hatch yesterday can just be seen in the top left of the first picture - just about the only accurate way to count them is by a photo, so I can tell that at least six of them are OK from this pic. The female seems to be spending a lot of time poking around in the nest cup - presumably making it bigger so there'll still be room for the rapidly expanding chicks.

I've gradually introduced a little slave flash in the last few days; as a result the shots of the chicks are much better lit without that shadow caused by the single gun.

Friday May 12th

DAY 5   Again, difficult to tell exactly how many chicks are still there, but there are still at least six. The difference in size between the oldest and youngest birds is quite noticeable in photo two - perhaps the small bird is the one that hatched on Wednesday? There's been a few showers today, so the glass in the side of the box has got quite messy as the damp adult birds rub up against it - I'll probably change it over the weekend.

Saturday May 13th

DAY 6   Definitely still seven chicks in the nest - they can all be seen in the fifth picture. Comparing the photos to those taken a couple of days ago the speed of the chicks' development is quite remarkable - on photo seven you can clearly see little eyelids beginning to appear, as well as the ear cavities. The female spends a lot of time making the nest cup bigger as the chicks grow; as the edges get higher and wider it's beginning to look like they're sat in a little crater!

I changed the glass this morning - no more out-of-focus bits of crap, which were caused by the female as she brushed up against the glass with her tail. Without even seeing any plumage detail on the birds, you can tell the female as she always gives a quiet sparrow-like chattering call to the chicks; it's this that prompts them to start begging rather than the noise of her entering the box. The female always goes to the close side of the nest (the glass side) and the male always feeds the young from the far corner, which is why nearly all of the shots I have of the chicks being fed are with the male bird.

Sunday May 14th

DAY 7   Life goes on in the Blue Tit house - I think all the chicks are still fine, although I only ever managed to photograph six in one image. The biggest ones are quite well developed now; on the second picture you can clearly see all the secondaries in pin with all the greater coverts coming through above them. Compare this older bird with the baby of the bunch being fed in the last photo - there's no head feathers developing at all yet on that one. If they survive then they should have left the nest by the time the Bank Holiday weekend is over, so there's a fair bit of growing to be done yet.

I spent some time with a macro lens taking close-ups of the chicks this afternoon, and took a few more shots of them being fed by the male.

Monday May 15th

DAY 8   Not much chance to get many pictures today - all seven chicks are still ok, even the youngest one, which surprised me a little - the adults must be finding enough food for them. For the first time, the calls of the chicks are now just about audible outside the nestbox; I always thought that I would be able to hear them at only a day or two, but I didn't realise just how quiet they'd be in their first week. The oldest chicks' eyes are just beginning to open.

Tuesday May 16th

DAY 9   All chicks still present this morning; I managed a few pics before work (below). Most of the visits were by the female - evidently she managed to find a plentiful supply of crane flies near the nest as she was in and out every couple of minutes at one point. It looked as though the male was flying farther and bringing in small caterpillars, and on one occasion he somehow managed to bring back a beakful of aphids - see the fourth photo. It's quite interesting to see what they find to eat around here - there's a long mature hedge bordering some open fields a short flight from here, but other than that the habitat is just gardens. It's impossible to see what the female gives them as she's always facing away from the glass, but things I've seen the male bring in are crane flies (daddy long-legs), St Mark's flies, aphids, spiders and various unidentified lepidopterous larvae and pupae.

The chicks are starting to preen themselves when they're left on their own for any length of time - it must be an instinctive reaction as they haven't got anything to preen yet! Apart from the one that 'escaped' on the weekend, the chicks don't seem to be able to clamber out of the nest-cup; the female still spends ages messing about to try and keep them in, but by the end of the week they should start to get a bit bigger and become more mobile. Perhaps I should start calling them 'housemates' and give them each a stupid name?

Wednesday May 17th

DAY 10   It rained all day, making taking pictures rather tricky (the glass gets smeared by the wet tail of the adult bird which makes the pictures blurry). The rain wasn't too heavy so the parents were both able to carry on with feeding the chicks. The oldest ones now have yellow feathers starting to grow on their underparts, and their legs are now grey.

Thursday May 18th

DAY 11   Despite the crappy weather, the housemates are all still alive and well. Their feathers are really growing quickly now; in comparison with a couple of days ago they're much fluffier and much louder! The youngest chick is still two or three days behind the largest ones (he/she's the left-hand chick in the last photo); if all the chicks fledge then I think it's unlikely they'll all go on the same day if that one's still around.

Friday May 19th

DAY 12   An eviction! Unfortunately the smallest chick died at some point during the day - evidently the adult(s) had tried to remove it from the box as the dead bird was lying by the entrance hole this evening, so at a quiet moment I took it out. Normally of course the dead chick would have stayed there and decomposed, but for the sake of sticking my hand in I thought it would be better to get rid of it rather than leave it there to attract flies and other things. The remaining chicks continue to grow - the biggest ones actually now look like baby Blue Tits, and are now strong enough to walk about around the box; one or more of them now wait by the entrance hole for the adult to arrive.

Outside, the dire weather continues - another day of strong winds, rain and low temperatures; the forecast for the next three days at least is similarly rubbish, which will have an effect on the chicks survival chances if they get too cold or the adults can't find enough food for them. Speaking of which, there was no sign of the female Blue Tit all evening, and she hadn't returned to the box by dusk. Which isn't too good.

Saturday May 20th

DAY 13   Things have all gone Pete Tong. The female Blue Tit hasn't been seen since yesterday and has almost certainly died, whilst the smallest chick of the remaining six has also died. Although the male Blue Tit is still going about his duties bringing a constant supply of food (mainly caterpillars), it's the female who does the 'looking after' of the chicks; she broods them overnight to keep them warm, and also keeps the nest free of mites and other undesirable creepy-crawlies. Had she gone missing a week ago the chicks would certainly have all died overnight, but evidently the remaining chicks were feathered enough to stay warm. Even so, with overnight temperatures in single figures, and a week still to go until they were/are due to fly, it's uncertain as to how many, if any will survive.

Of the remaining five chicks, the three biggest ones now spend most of their time waiting by the entrance hole for the male to arrive, whilst the smallest chick is not yet big enough to climb out of the nest cup. The fifth remaining chick, although one of the biggest, is looking decidedly peeky and isn't being fed. I wouldn't be surprised if there are less than four by tomorrow.

Sunday May 21st

DAY 14   All the remaining chicks with the exception of one were dead this morning. Despite the strong winds, low temperatures and pissing rain, the male Blue Tit is still managing to find it food, however.

Monday May 22nd

DAY 15   All dead.  Bugger.

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Rich Andrews Photography   CVL birding