Boxing clever

The use of nest box cameras is on the up, with these increasingly affordable bits of kit becoming extremely popular amongst garden wildlife enthusiasts. Many people only watch during the spring and summer though, with the hope that there will be a nest and chicks to view. However, many nest boxes are used year-round, acting as important roosting sites during the cold nights of late autumn and winter.

The BTO’s Garden BirdWatch Team recently asked people to let them know if they had birds roosting in their nest boxes, receiving a lot of replies. Some people were prompted to switch on their cameras in the winter for the first time, like Liz Shakespeare who discovered that all four of her camera nest boxes had a Blue Tit roosting in them. It seems that having Blue Tits roosting is quite common, as the Roosting Survey results from winter 2010-2011 show.

Blue Tits are feisty little birds and prefer to roost by themselves. This can sometimes lead to disputes over ownership, as in some areas decent roosting places are hard to come by. Anthea Lockley saw this with her resident Blue Tit defending its nest box against an intruder with ‘feathers flying’!

Paul Hopkinson and Joanna Everitt were lucky enough to have a Blue Tit and a House Sparrow roosting in their camera nest boxes, allowing a comparison between their individual roosting behaviours. The Blue Tit arrived just when it was getting dark and then left just as it was getting light. In contrast, the House Sparrow arrived up to an hour before dark and had a lie-in, leaving about 45 minutes after dawn. Alright for some!

Other observations that people sent in included what happens during the breeding season. For instance, Gordon Long’s Blue Tit roosts and nests in his nest box. In contrast, Valerie Flook has Blue Tits roosting in her nest boxes but come the breeding season, Tree Sparrows move in. And some people have very picky birds. At the beginning of 2013, Lusie Ambler had a Blue Tit regularly roosting in one box but one night it moved to a new box she had just put up. Then, during the day, she witnessed a Blue Tit transferring nesting material from both the original box and a second box to the new box. Whatever the reason, the Blue Tit successfully raised four fledglings.

Have you turned on your nest box camera this winter? You may be pleasantly surprised. As Robin Tomlin summed up nicely ‘It’s better than watching scheduled TV programmes to see the antics that go on.’

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