A partnership between the Woodland Trust and the National Trust

Flying the Nest?

Fingle bird survey – part 4

By the end of June most of the frenetic activity in the birds’ nests of Fingle Woods is over. Both the overwintering birds and summer visitors spent May busily claiming territorial boundaries and singing from the trees to attract a mate. Once paired up they have been taking advantage of the longer days, foraging for insects to feed to their fast growing broods. But it’s not always so straight forward. There are many dangers out there in the woods for our feathered friends. There are risks to encounter before Fingle’s chicks can successfully fly the nest. To understand the perils and pitfalls of woodland life, some of the local volunteers have been monitoring nest boxes to check, in particular, on the progress of the pied flycatcher. Rosemary Payne is one of the pied flycatcher volunteer network and has a set of 30 nest boxes around the lower part of the woods near the river Teign. I caught up with her on her last nest box check of the year.
Our first stop was a small cluster of boxes in the oak woods, a prime piece of pied flycatcher real estate. Rosemary’s records showed there were blue tits there two weeks ago. Flight feathers at the ready, they were nearly fledged but now they were gone, safely flown to learn to forage for themselves. Opportunistic bees had moved into the insulated moss nest.

Trampled flat – a nest after blue tits have fledged

Trampled flat – a nest after blue tits have fledged

Predated blue tit nest – abandoned with one egg left

Predated blue tit nest – abandoned with one egg left

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few boxes were empty, not all had been used during the spring and, continuing the checks, we peered into another box to see the sad sight of three tiny blue tit corpses. Again, the records showed that there were seven here so it looked like four, probably the strongest four, had fledged before the weather turned colder through June. This mixed result showed how vulnerable the small birds are when the weather takes a turn.
In another box a well-made nest lay quiet, with one solitary egg. The dates in the note book showed that there had been many more eggs but they disappeared before hatching. This was a sign of predation, another serious threat for the woodland song birds, and the reason they lay so many eggs in a clutch. The network of bird monitors around Dartmoor exchange notes and public enemy number one could be the weasel. They are hungry enough and small enough to enter the nest without leaving many clues.
Taking a break from the nest boxes, we watched some dippers on the sparkling water of the river. Hopping between the rocks, there were two birds but it looked like one was giving the other tuition, a lesson in dipping and diving for food.

Part built pied flycatcher nest

Part built pied flycatcher nest

Egg shells in a predated pied flycatcher nest

Egg shells in a predated pied flycatcher nest

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back at the nest boxes, a pied flycatcher nest had also been predated. This time the nest was a mess. Had there been a fight? The parent birds can be very protective but sadly, this time they had lost the whole clutch. After happily finding a nest where pied flycatchers had flown, another nearby pied flycatcher had also been predated, some egg remnants were there with no sign of adult birds. A small predator probably created this chaos. Too small to carry away a whole egg, it could have been a wood mouse but the mystery may never be solved and the birds will have to try again next year.
With one successfully fledged pied flycatcher nest, Rosemary clearly cares a lot for her little Fingle families and hopes for a better time next spring. If the weather is kind and the food plentiful they should do well. With one last box to check she knew there was a feathered chick there last time she looked … and today? No, it had flown, another blue tit surviving in the trees of Fingle to fight another day.

Find out more about the pied flycatcher network at www.piedfly.net

by Matt Parkins

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