Nestbox camera 2017

For a third year I have put in an extra page to provide regular updates on the nest box without overloading the main blog.

21 June 2017
Well.  A big surprise this morning.  I switched on the camera early on and saw this.

Not only that, but there were three of them.

I am almost certain there was only one chick in the box last night and I thought that had gone after the box was silent for a long time.  I can't believe there were three hiding in there.  I can only assume they had come back in for the night. Not long after that we had a thunderstorm and the heavy rain certainly quietened them down.

Then the power went off for two hours in the storm and when it came back on the box was quiet.  I have had the camera on for an hour without a cheep from them.  I'l have look tonight but I am pretty sure they won't return, although if the weather stays bad, who knows?

20 June 2017
And there they were gone.  I checked mid afternoon and the chicks were all clamouring for food as normal.  By early evening the box was quiet.

Then I could hear one chick cheeping and eventually I caught a glimpse of it.

Most of the time it sat out of view of the camera, presumably in the entrance to the box.  I think the parents must have realised they were one short and come back for it.  So I still don't know for sure whether there were five or six.  I'll try to tidy things up a bit before they decide whether or not to have a second brood.  It has been so hard to see what goes on that I may reduce the entrance hole size next year and go back to blue tits.

19 June 2017
I have been out for most of the past two days so I haven't seen much of what has been going on in the box.  The chicks are very quiet tonight and I think the mother has been sleeping out for at least two nights.  Not sure when they will fly.

16 June 2017
For the first time I have taken photos of the outside of the box.  The birds are very wary, which is interesting as another pair in a box in the kitchen garden don't seem at all bothered when I am working in there.  I took these photos by hiding in the car with camo net over the window.  This one shows how the chicks look now.  The bolt just above the entrance plate holds the camera and the other holes show where I was adjusting the camera position to try to improve the view.

The chicks' diet is varied but mostly insects.  These I think are ladybird larvae.

These are sunflower seeds from the feeder.

The next course is a damselfly.

Followed by more ladybirds.

It is interesting how early the sparrows started to feed at the entrance - probably helped by the tunnel of nest material that helps the chicks climb up to the hole.  In previous years the blue tits have only done this in the last day or so before fledging.

15 June 2017
Tree sparrow chicks don't do orderly queues, more like a scrum.  Most or all of the feeding is now done at the entrance to the box.  I presume the chicks take turns to be at the front but it is difficult to be sure what is going on.  The clip from today gives you a flavour.  The chicks take no notice of mother coming in to do some cleaning and just keep calling for more food.

The reaction of the parents to my comings and goings is interesting.  They just melt away unseen.  This is a big contrast to the blue tits of previous years which would hop about in the holly tree outside calling alarms.  I'll try to get some photos outside tomorrow.

14 June 2017
I have been away for three days and there have been big changes in that time.  The chicks are now so loud that I can hear them through the house if I leave the front door open.  They are climbing up towards the entrance hole to await the next delivery of food.  I still can't be sure of the number but I still think it is six.

In this clip a parent pushes past the chicks to do some housework as they continue to clamour for food.  I reckon they will fledge next week.

11 June 2017
It still isn't easy to see into the box but I can definitely see five chicks.  I'm not sure about a sixth.

They are just starting to develop feathers and react to every sound.  This was just the front door banging in the wind but they thought it might mean more food.  How many chicks do you think there are?

10 June 2017
The parent birds have been hard at work today despite the weather.  Think they are bringing in insects and spiders of various sorts but it is difficult to see as the camera is looking over their shoulders.  The chicks are noisy and are squeaking non-stop.  The view is variable with all the stuff in the way but isn't noticeably worse than it was.  Here is a clip from today to show you what they are up to.

08 June 2017
By last night the view in was completely blocked by grass and feathers but this morning I can see in again.  The chicks are now squeaking all the time and I am pretty sure there are six of them.  Have a look at this video clip and see what you think.

07 June 2017
We have had 48 hours of rain and it is cold and windy but the sparrows have been in and out feeding the chicks.  The view in still isn't great but this clip is the best view I have had of the chicks so far.  I am pretty sure there are five.

06 June 2017
Great news.  The chicks have hatched.  The view is still very poor and I can't get any useful still photos but in real time I can see at least four gapes (open beaks) when the parent leaves the box.  On this clip you can make out two of them.

Another clip from just now shows a parent bird coming in to feed the chicks and you can just make out a chick to its left.

The chicks can already hold up their heads and I can hear a faint cheeping so I think they were hatched yesterday or more likely the day before, certainly not this morning.  With more traffic in and out the view may improve and as the chicks get bigger they should get easier to see.

05 June 2017
I think it is now probably about 11 days since the last egg was laid and incubation is said to be 12 or 13 days.  The view in continues to be bad as the birds knock nest material in front of the lens as they go in and out.  This is now - the bird is in there somewhere.

Sometimes it looks like this.

I can see the birds behind the stuff some of the time but it doesn't make a great photo or video.  I also see them coming in and out and can see the change over of incubation shifts so it is clear that both birds brood the eggs.  I'm hoping that the view will improve once the eggs hatch this week and they are going in and out more often.

29 May 2017
The view has deteriorated over the past three days as the bird has knocked a feather and other stuff in front of the camera lens.  This was two days ago

This was yesterday

And this is now.

I can see the birds moving behind all the stuff on the monitor but it is no good on a still frame.  I hope they manage to knock it out of the way again, otherwise there won't be much to see.

26 May 2017
I am now fairly sure there are five eggs.  The view still isn't great but it is easier to see when the camera is in UV mode. The incubating bird (presumably female) often stands in the entrance as the weather has been so warm.  The male is still occasionally bringing food.

25 May 2017
One of the birds (I presume the female but Wikipedia says that both parents incubate the eggs) stayed in last night for the first time.  I think there are probably four eggs but it is difficult to be sure.  The view into the nest isn't great but may improve as the bird(s) go in and out.

24 May 2017
It is difficult to be certain how many eggs there are this morning - my guess is four but I can only be sure of three.  The way the nest has been built excludes nearly all of the light from the two side windows meaning that the camera switches to UV if there isn't enough light through the entrance.  And it is more difficult for the camera in natural light. This was the view (UV light) this morning when the bird got up and sat in the entrance hole.

Seconds later it moved and the camera switched to natural light - the eggs are more difficult to make out and the piece of grass in the way is more obtrusive.

The bird didn't stay in last night but was there first thing this morning, so she isn't yet brooding full time.  The male was bringing her bits of food, as in this short clip.

My hope is they'll shift that bit of grass as they go in and out.

23 May 2017
The bird again didn't sleep in the box last night (or at least she hadn't come in by the time I went to bed).  When I looked first thing this morning she was there.

When she moved to the entrance I could see three eggs which look white in the UV light.

As the natural light improved the camera changed from UV and it is possible to make out markings although the view is partly obscured.

This is a Wikipedia illustration of tree sparrow eggs.

By Didier Descouens - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

22 May 2017
At last.  This afternoon I can see two eggs.  I have just put a more complete report on the main blog but will put daily updates here when there is something to tell.  It will be interesting to see if the mother sleeps in tonight - she didn't last night.

19 May 2017
I am still not sure they are serious about this but both birds were in the box together this afternoon - the first time I have seen this.  You may be able to make out the male in the bottom right corner of the picture while the female is rearranging the furniture in the back of the box.

Even so she again isn't sleeping in.  This is the view at dusk tonight.

16 May 2017
Still no sign of an egg.  I was starting to lose hope in these birds, even though at least one of them has visited the box every day.  I wondered perhaps if something had happened to one of them although there hasn't been much sign of the sparrowhawk recently.  Then this morning there has been a lot of activity.  The female (I assume) has been in and out all morning while the male has sat on the roof or at the entrance hole.  The female has been bringing in a few small feathers and bits of Artemisia leaves - presumably she likes the smell.

I don't know why laying has been so delayed.  The nest was finished weeks ago and the weather hasn't been bad.  A few days ago I found a dead chick hanging out of the nest box of another pair of tree sparrows in the kitchen garden.  It looked almost ready to fledge so that pair are a whole brood ahead of these two.  I couldn't tell whether it had died in the nest and the parents had been trying to remove it or if it had been killed by a predator.  I also don't know what happened to the rest of that brood as I haven't yet seen any sparrow fledglings.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this pair will get on with it soon, and hoping we'll still have a view into the nest.

10 May 2017
I have been away for a few days and returned to find that nothing has changed.  The sparrow has popped in to the nest box twice this evening, each time for a few seconds.  There is a lot more activity outside some of the the other boxes but, writing this as it gets dark, it seems she still isn't ready to sleep in.  At least I can still see into the nest.

06 May 2017
It is easy to see why it has been so difficult to judge what goes on inside a tree sparrow nest box by watching from the outside.  I just checked on last year's page what the blue tits got up to.  The female spent four weeks building the nest, slept in overnight almost straightaway, and started laying within a couple of days. The tree sparrows also took about a month to build but it was finished almost four weeks ago and so far she hasn't slept in and laying hasn't started.  My guess is that it is the same for the other tree sparrow boxes.  Birds sometime sit on the roofs and chirrup, and occasionally look inside, but otherwise spend their time feeding, chasing and taking dust baths.  It is interesting that they are so slow off the marks, given that they will produce 2 or 3 broods.  I suppose they are waiting to synchronise with the caterpillar crop.  The great tit in the porch four feet away from the camera box has been sitting on her eggs for over a week.

02 May 2017
There is still not much happening in the box.  One of the birds pops in regularly but only for a couple of seconds.  I reckon the nest has been finished for over 2 weeks now.  There is still lots of chirruping going on from time to time, presumably to proclaim ownership.  I moved the feather that was in the way three nights ago and we still have a reasonable view in.

I have just found that there is a great tit sitting on eggs in another box inside the porch, about 4 feet from this one, so I'll be reluctant to interfere any more.  I have been leaving the ladder almost leaning on the great tit's box without realising she was in there.

As this nest was completed in April I thought the tree sparrow would start laying soon after, as is the case with blue tits. I have now read that the commonest date for laying in tree sparrows is the second week of May but it can be later so I guess I'll just have to be patient.  The clutch is usually 5 or 6 eggs.

29 April 2017
You can see the problem.  The sparrow's comings and goings have dislodged a feather to obscure the view of the camera.  I have hoped that she would knock it out of the way but despite several visits this morning it hasn't happened. The bird still hasn't slept in so no sign of laying as yet.  If she doesn't move in tonight I'll shift the feather if it is still in the way.  If it happens again once she has started laying I'll be stuck with it.

26 April 2017
This all the activity there is in the box at the moment - just a brief dash in and out.  It is mainly in the mornings.  This video clip was from this morning.  I expect the birds are keeping an eye on the box to make sure it doesn't get taken over.  There are lots of sparrows on the feeders and chasing around the garden in excited groups.  Lots of dust bathing in the kitchen garden as well.

25 April 2017
It is now 6 weeks since nest building began and almost two weeks since the nest was completed.  It seems strange to me that the female doesn't take advantage of this warm dry nest on a bitterly cold night like tonight.  I expect she won't stay in untill she ready to lay, which is obviously not just yet.  She visits in the mornings just to check but only stays a second or two.  We still have a view in.

22 April 2017
Not much to report.  The nest is finished.  I haven't spent much time watching but from what I can see the bird calls in several times each morning, usually just for a couple of seconds.  She doesn't even do any rearranging so I suppose she is happy with things as they are.  I still have some sort of view in so I'm planning to leave things as they are unless something changes dramatically.  This is the view just now.

It is quiet outside all the other tree sparrow boxes as well so I think they have all decided who is going to live where and all the disputes are settled.  There are several tree sparrows in holes in trees in the garden as well so I'll try to see how many once there is more activity.

19 April 2017
It has been pretty quiet around all the sparrow boxes in the past couple of days.  There has been some territorial chirping outside the camera box and the sparrow pops in from time to time but there has been no more material coming in as far as I can see.  I did risk another adjustment last night, moving the camera about 1cm down and to the right.  The camera is still just above and to the right of the sparrow as it comes in and this was the view when I had finished.

This is the bird in the box just now.  It (she?) seems to be making fewer adjustments so I am optimistic we might have some sort of view when there are eggs and chicks.  I expect laying will start soon so I will leave the box undisturbed from now.  The sparrow hasn't yet slept in overnight.

12 April 2017
The sparrows spend a lot of time chirping outside the box, presumably to proclaim ownership.  They are still challenged from time to time but I can't see what by - I just see the reaction of the bird in the box.  There are still adjustments being made but only a few feathers being brought in as far as I can see.  The female hasn't yet slept in overnight.  This is how things looked last night.

And this morning.  I haven't been in recently to improve the view - I'm still hoping that we'll be able to see down the tunnel to the nest cup.

07 April 2017
I have been away for a few days and it looks as though the birds have carried on filling the nestbox while I wasn't here. I could hardly see in on the monitor when I got back so I have just had a quick look inside this evening to adjust things slightly.  This is how it looks inside, more or less the bird's eye view.  The nest is built with a tunnel running backwards from the hole at about 45° to where the nest cup is at the back.

The camera is just above and to the right of the hole but even so it is hard to keep the view clear.  This is how it looks now.

Once the bird is sleeping in I'll not be able to make any further adjustments.  Let's hope we still have a view.

30 March 2017
I presume it is the female doing all the work in the nest at present but I can't be sure.  At times she comes in and out every few seconds.  A few feathers and leaves are brought in but most of the time she is readjusting what is already there.  I think all that remains to be done is to complete the lining of the nest.  There is a bit more stuff in front of the camera so I may tweak it again slightly.  Here is what she was doing this morning.  You can hear her mate in the holly tree outside.

28 March 2017
I readjusted the camera last night, moving it down and to the right by about 15mm.  The entrance hole is now below and slightly to the left of the camera so I hope we will end up with a good view into the nest.  This is how it looked first thing this morning.

The sparrow or sparrows have been very busy this morning, rushing in and out with feathers and leaves, starting to line the nest cup.  They do get a bit confused and are just as likely to take something out as to bring it in.  I remember the blue tits doing the same in previous years.  Here is a short video clip to show you what they are up to.

27 March 2017
I think the sparrows have mostly finished building the nest and over the past couple of days they have been lining it with feathers.  This is view the camera has at present.  It isn't perfect but I haven't adjusted it for almost a week.

I can the see bird in the nest and see it go in and out.  It (or they) visits regularly but only stays for a moment.  They also sit on the roof and chirrup loudly so that all the others know this box is taken.

Here's a short video from this morning.

I think I'll make a few minor adjustments tonight but at the moment it does look as though we will have a view into the nest when laying begins.  I think that won't be for another two or three weeks but if the fine weather continues I suppose that could change.

21 March 2017
I sneaked into the box again yesterday evening after the sparrows had gone for the day.  I haven't been able to see in for a couple of days as the nest material forming the "bower" keeps falling in front of the camera.  So I made a minor modification and put a piece of wire across to keep the stuff away from the camera.  Like this

This is the view down into the nest - much as the bird sees it when it enters - so the wire isn't in the way.

And this is the camera's view first thing this morning.

One of the sparrows came in to check and seemed happy.  It shows clearly on the monitor but I may need to make a minor adjustment.

Later, after the sparrow had gone, I witnessed a burglary.  After very loud tapping on the entrance plate a pair of great tits came in and spent five minutes or so sizing the place up before leaving.  Perhaps they were put off by the police sirens in the background on the video.

Later the great tits were back again but had gone again before the sparrows returned.

18 March 2017

I readjusted the nest material slightly last night and could at least see into the nest a little, like this.

It has rained all morning and the birds have stayed away, presumably not wanting to bring anything wet into the box. After it stopped one of them came into the box for a poke about but didn't bring in any new material as far as I could see.  This is the view with the bird in the box at present.  It does look as though the camera is pointing at where the nest will be.  It needs improving but I think I might be possible to maintain a view once the nest is complete.  Let's hope so.

17 March 2017

You can see the problem.  This is how things ended up yesterday afternoon.

So I opened up the box again to move the camera.  Here is the nest which is constructed with a kind of bower over the top, blocking the view from the camera.

I moved the camera to be just above the hole at the front, looking down and back (I hope the sparrow doesn't bang its head).  After I finished it looked like this.

But this morning it looks like this.

I can make out the sparrow behind all the stuff as it goes in and out.  Once it starts roosting I'll be stuck but until then I can make adjustments.  Possibly when the nest is almost finished they won't keep adding and rearranging.

16 March 2017

After finding that the sparrows had blocked the view of the camera yesterday I opened the box yesterday evening.  This is what the nest looked like.

And this is the view down into the nest, so it does have a dome or roof above, which is a problem for the camera.

I moved some material aside to improve the view.  This shows the camera in the roof.

And this was what it looked like afterwards - not too bad.

However, the sparrows weren't impressed and rearranged it first thing this morning.  This is the view now (you can just make out the sparrow sitting looking out of the entrance) so we are back to square one.

The only other thing I can think of is to move the camera forward so it is looking back into the nest rather than straight down, so I'll try that tonight.  If they block that as well I'm a bit stuck.  Maybe they just want a bit of privacy.

15 March 2017

Houston we have a problem.  This is the camera view this afternoon.  The birds have brought in so much stuff that it is blocking the view.  I have read that tree sparrows' nests have a dome so if they want it to stay like that it may make it impossible to see what is going on.  I think I'll sneak in tonight after they have gone to clear the view but if they persist I may be stuck.  We'll see.

14 March 2017

Until now the sparrows haven't done much more than bring in material and drop it.  Now one of them (I guess it is the female) has started arranging the furniture.  I hope not too much stuff ends up on top as it may make it difficult to see what is going on.

13 March 2017

One thing you can say about tree sparrows is that once they get started they certainly get on with the job.  This is how the box looks 24 hours after I noticed the beginnings of the nest.

The sparrows use grass, leaves and feathers so the nest at this stage is a lot more scruffy than a blue tit nest.  The blue tits are still around but I haven't seen one come into the box so I expect they have more or less given up.  On the video below one of the sparrows is in the box chirping loudly to proclaim ownership.  Something comes to the entrance (out of view), probably a blue tit, and the sparrow cowers for a moment before plucking up courage and asserting itself.

I read that both birds build the nest (in blue tits it is only the female) but because they look identical I can't tell which is which.

12 March 2017
I have been away for the weekend and returned to find that building has started in the camera nest box.

In the past few weeks both blue tits and tree sparrows have been showing interest in the box.  A pair of blue tits has been coming in many times each morning.

The tree sparrows have mostly sat on the roof chirping loudly but one has occasionally dashed in and out, almost too quick for the camera.

The box was put up in 2009 and this is the ninth consecutive year in which it has been occupied.  In 2009 a pair of blue tits built a nest but one of them was taken by a sparrowhawk before any eggs were laid.  In 2010 a pair of great tits hatched two eggs but neither chick fledged.  In 2011-2016 the box was occupied by blue tits which raised 11, 11, 2, 8, 4, and 6 chicks, an average of 7 a year.  Early last year I changed the entrance plate to 32mm, hoping to attract tree sparrows, which were in several other boxes, but still the nest was built by blue tits.

Now it looks as though the tree sparrows have adopted what you might call the German Beach Towel Strategy and have moved in and started building.  It is said that possession is nine-tenths of the law so they have probably won the battle.  It will be interesting to watch them, as they make a change from blue tits and are likely to have two or three broods (the blue tits always have just one).  The BTO website says that egg laying starts in mid April and goes on until mid August.  The eggs are white with brown blotches with 5 or 6 in a clutch.  Incubation takes 12-13 days (slightly quicker than the blue tits) and nestlings fledge after 15-18 days (again slightly quicker).  The nest material is noticeably different from that used by blue tits, being grass, leaves and feathers whereas the blue tits mainly bring in moss to begin with.

As I did in the past two years I'll post regular reports on this page with occasional updates on the main blog.

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