What has happened to the blue tits?

Either we have misread the blue tits’ timetable or the nest has been abandoned. During his last two visits to the nest site, DKG has not seen the birds at all.

It is possible that we misinterpreted the signs and that when both birds were seen going in and out of the nest hole, they were, in fact, building the nest, not feeding young. We know that it is usually the female blue tit that builds the nest alone, while the male stands guard against the thieves and villains that would steal the nest site or the nesting materials, but we might have misinterpreted the comings and goings of the birds.

. . . the comings and goings of the birds. . .

If that were so, this long period without a sighting could mean either that the female is laying, one egg a day until she has a clutch of anything up to fourteen eggs, or that she is already sitting and incubating her clutch. As a rule, blue tit eggs hatch towards the end of April or the beginning of May.

If we were right, and the birds were feeding a nestful of young in the first week of April, what could have gone wrong? Firstly, there was a cold snap and a series of frosty mornings that might have delayed the hatching of the winter moth caterpillars that are the main food source of breeding blue tits. The first weeks of April are generally very early for blue tit nestlings and food just might have been too scarce for the baby birds to have survived.

The park’s apex predators: stoat, jay and sparrowhawk.

Secondly, the park’s ecosystem is robust enough now to support apex predators; both stoats and weasels have been sighted in the past year and either would relish a nest of baby blue tits for breakfast. Last year a weasel was seen less than a hundred metres from this nest site and was believed to have raided a long tailed tit’s nest in the brambles by Fiveways. The year before a stoat took a nest of blue tits and DKG photographed it at the nest hole.

A jay will catch and kill a blue tit and so will a sparrowhawk; the park is home to more than one pair of jays and is the hunting ground for several sparrowhawks. If any of them killed and ate one of our blue tits, the other might well have given up the attempt to rear young alone, particularly so early in the year with food so scarce.

DKG has not given up hope; he and his camera will continue to watch. If the nest is still viable he will be there to photograph it.

Photographs by DKG unless otherwise attributed.


The blue tit story so far:

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