6 Blue Tit chicks die in my nest box in worst year ever 2016 video

December 23, 2016

in A selection of my garden wildlife videos, Birds, Gardening For Wildlife

BTO state worst breeding season on record for Blue Tits in 2016

I am an avid bird feeder and enjoy, like many millions of other people, watching the birds and their antics in the garden. I have encouraged many birds to nest here as well, such as, Great Tits, and Robins as part of my wildlife garden. As food becomes scarce, many wild birds find it hard in the countryside to find sufficient food to survive the long cold winter months. Blue Tits (Parus caeruleus) are daily visitors in my garden but mainly feed up for longer periods with more visits and larger flocks in the winter, amongst Great Tits, Long-tailed tits, occasional Goldcrest and Coal Tits. My feeders are always stocked up but this year, I most definitely have not seen anywhere near as many Blue Tits visiting as is usual for this time of the year. There is a noticeable absence in numbers and visits. The BTO Garden BirdWatch scheme has recorded the lowest number of Blue Tits using gardens during November since 2003.

Dead chicks as part of the outer nest inside a nest box

Dead chicks as part of the outer nest inside a nest box

Female accepts nest box 

Early this year, I watched as the female checked out the various nest boxes I have in the garden. They always display the same behaviour before accepting a box to nest inside. Landing on the nest box, hanging from the entrance hole, peck at the entrance hole, peeking inside, not going in, several more peeks, look around the nest box outside, peek inside, enter her head a little more inside, but not fully enter and this behaviour goes on until she finally accepts a nest box. Eventually over a period of several days, after many partial half body entrances she will enter fully and stay inside a while checking out the decor no doubt! She will do this several times probably checking the flight path is clear of obstacles, and checks out inaccessibility to predators. Once accepted the building of the nest starts.

Female makes the nest

The female does all the work building the nest using moss, grass and other materials including sheeps wool if available. The male stands guard nearby and sings occasionally to reassure her and ward off other male Blue Tits. In this nest you will clearly see she finished the top off with feathers surrounded by the bright green fibrous felt casing of a tennis ball that was inside next doors garden! Now for the eggs.

Snail shells

You will see in the video that I placed out numerous empty snail shells which I collect over the winter months every year. They are placed with the rim downwards and pressed into the soil. This allows the birds, including this Blue Tit female, to stand on or near the exposed snail shell and peck away at it and eat it. If the shells are not in this position, it makes it much more difficult for the birds get a purchase on the shell to peck and eat them. Birds need calcium for their eggs, and I saw her each evening during her egg laying period, eat the shells and then go inside the nest for the rest of the night. The shells are utilised that night and by the morning are ‘used’ when she lays her egg. It was very pleasing to see this in action.

Disaster for this female and her brood

In 2016 the BTO reported that Blue Tits have had their worst breeding season on record. This concurs exactly with my own Blue Tit nest for 2016 experience. It has been my worst year ever for Blue Tits fledging from any of my nest boxes. In fact when filming them I found some of them dead and stacked inside the nest box outer bedding material. It was very obvious that the female was not finding enough food. I failed to observe the male ever visit the nest, even when she was brooding the eggs. I can only assume he was killed some time early in the egg laying period perhaps? Males provide the female with food whilst she is brooding the eggs, which keeps her fit for the purpose of brooding. This could have affected her own physical well being. Usually both parents are extremely busy at the nest boxes whilst feeding their chicks. This year there were ever so long periods of the female not visiting the nest at all. In all, 8 chicks were born and only 2 fledged. Not only did the wet and cooler weather here affect them, it also affected by Red Mason bee numbers.

Caterpillars as a food for chicks

Blue Tits nesting period is very closely associated with the abundance of moth caterpillars on trees such as oaks. I live near a large mixed woodland area where more caterpillars would be found than in the average suburban gardens. A cold or wet spell during this period can result in the birds not having this caterpillar crop to harvest for the chicks. Researchers have found that a large brood of Blue Tits in the nest may receive up to 20,000 caterpillars. That equates to approximately 100 caterpillars a day each chick. If only one adult is alive there would be a reductions of probably around 50%. Taking all this into account I think she did a great job of having 2 birds fledge.

For more Blue Tit science information BTO Blue Tit

Download PDF  Blue Tit: The Garden acrobat by Mike Toms BTO

Interesting BTO monthly Blue Tit blog

 Garden BirdWatch monitors the changing fortunes of birds and other garden wildlife through its network of ‘citizen scientists’. Observations collected by BTO Garden BirdWatchers are analysed by BTO researchers and published in leading journals. BTO Garden BirdWatchers have charted the decline of the House Sparrow, the rise of the Woodpigeon, have discovered that urban birds get up later than their rural counterparts and have alerted conservationists to the impact of an emerging disease in Greenfinches commonly known as Fat Finch disease.

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