by Paul Cormacain
THE robins used one of the nest boxes, but there was never that frantic activity that characterised the lower nest box beside the green house.
The third nest box, made of plastic, had a serious design fault. It was in a part of the garden due for modernisation, and was removed before any creature could move in.
The robin nest has not been opened yet, far too early, but its secrets will be revealed eventually. The favourite nest box was head-hunted some considerable weeks ago. Male and female great tit went in and out on every excuse, and seemed to favour it.
Then one morning a predatory cat was found seated on top of the box. I did not see any carnage excepting a few feathers but I have a horrible feeling that he got one of the pair, then carried off his prey.
Suddenly, the box went from being claimed to no one being interested in it. Then after a few weeks another pair, well I think it was another pair, came investigating, as though they were only seeing the box for the first time.
They went through the whole ritual, looking, checking, discussing, then they started building a nest.
We did not find out how many eggs were laid, and it will be difficult counting the young as they emerge and disperse. We did watch some of the preliminaries to egg laying, and it was as fascinating as ever.
The great tit is an aggressive bird, as small birds go.
At a feeding station in a garden he can be quite dominating, and since he has a very stout beak his authority tends not to be questioned. He can open a nut with his bill, more than some humans could do. One was seen mauling a goldcrest, our smallest bird, actually killing it. So he does get looks of respect from other birds.
When the male goes courting the female pays attention. (Birds have not heard of female liberation). The male takes no part in building the nest but he does point out suitable nesting holes to the female. When they decide to make a go of it, she could receive up to one third of her food from him. When the nest is built she starts to lay eggs. She does attend them, she keeps the cold from them, but she cannot afford to start incubating until the clutch is all laid.
The eggs could be up to one dozen in number, and if the first half dozen incubated early the growth of the first six would seriously inhibit the growth of the next six.
The bigger birds would quite happily gobble up all the food, and quite happily leave the smaller birds to starve.
When the female stays with the eggs during the laying period the male stays away, hiding in a hole or secluded place. Every morning he comes round early, starts communications, and the couple remain close.
They time the eggs for when there will be a plentiful supply of food for the young, and if you want to get a MSc on great tit breeding patterns you could do worse than find out how the birds know when there is going to be a plentiful supply of caterpillars.
So the pair in our garden now have young. And if the male seemed lazy before, now he has not time to seem anything but extremely busy.
The male and female are on the go from early morning to late at night, feeding an ever-hungry, brood. Having nothing better to do than observe I can tell you the birds can return with food in 10 seconds.
We would sit in the garden in the sun, our heads would be half a metre away, and the parent great: tits would not be in the least put off by our presence, our noise, or our movement.
They just keep bringing back food, stuff the nearest empty mouth, and fly off to obtain more food.
As mentioned, they can be as quick as 10 seconds, at other times they can take half a minute to obtain another caterpillar. Can you imagine humans working so hard?
This has been going on for a few weeks now, and the feeding seems to get more and more frantic.
Soon the young will become very daring, and one will jump up to the nest box hole. After some encouragement, and some frightened squealing, he will launch himself forth.
The others will quickly follow suite, and the parents will continue to encourage them, to feed them, and to train them how to fend for themselves.
Do you know what happens then ? They may well start all over again.
Sunday 10 June - There may yet be a Mourne Walk at 10.30 on this day, but check with 028 4372 4059
There may yet be a butterfly walk at Drumlamph, at 11.00, but phone Butterfly Conservation at 028 91275785
There may yet be a Walkathon. along the Lagan Towpath at 2pm, but do contact NICHS on 028 9037 0373
A nature ramble at 12.00 sounds good. Details from Castle Espie, 028 91874146
Day for Ducklings sounds good also. This is at 2pm at Oxford Island, phone 028 3832 2205