Back on April 17th, I took a series of pictures of a pair of courting Blue Tits.
(If you visit the website, rather than viewing on email or the WordPress Reader, you’ll be able to see the below slideshows rather than all the individual pictures.)
The males do a lot of schmoozing, showering the females with gifts – a juicy caterpillar here, a sunflower heart there – and I’d always assumed it was the Blue Tit equivalent of boxes of chocolates and bunches of flowers. But having watched the way the adults feed their fledglings over the past few years, I’ve started wondering whether the female’s approach is a bit more pragmatic than that.
The adult females puff themselves up and flutter their wings in a way that looks very similar to the behaviour of fledglings begging to be fed in the hours and days after they’ve left the nest.
Could the females be imitating the chicks to see if their behaviour triggers a sufficient feeding response in the prospective male? Maybe they’re checking out the male’s parenting potential before they take the plunge. Doesn’t seem unreasonable: you’d want a male who was good at feeding duties, especially when you could have as many as ten chicks to look after.
Last Thursday, May 27th, two days short of six weeks since the Blue Tit courtship display, the pair’s progeny fledged. I first realised it was happening when I came outside the backdoor and saw one of the adults perched on the electric cable leading to the house.
He had a juicy looking caterpillar and was twittering in a way that sounded like he was trying to tempt the chicks out of the nest box. I went to see what was happening and I could hear three or four of the fledglings already in the willow tree and there was one in the long grass of the field on the other side of the stream that was calling out repeatedly.
I didn’t see any others leaving the nest box so I’m guessing the rest of the brood – if there were any more – had already dispersed.
Most of the brood were up in the willow tree already.
One fledgling higher up was preening himself thoroughly which was understandable after two or three weeks cooped up in the nest box with all the attendant creepy crawlies.
And then I noticed the fledgling in the long grass fluttering its way up to the lower branches of the willow. It just made it and clung on.
He struggled his way up the dangling branch to a more horizontal perch.
But he was partially hidden behind a vertical branch so I moved a little closer to get a better angle.
The fledgling didn’t seem too impressed by my presence.
A few squeaks and wing flaps later, and one of the parents was down to feed him.
As he perched there, the dappled light shifted as the wind moved the leaves in the branches above, occasional giving the effect of a spotlight trained on him.
Photography gets a lot easier when the subject is on the same level as you and not far away. It’s also handy if the subject is unsure about flying away, unwilling to risk another flight quite yet. It helps too when there aren’t too many branches in front or behind. And when there’s a small puff of wind and dappled sunlight flashes through the leaves for a moment and illuminates your subject perfectly, it’s the icing on the photographic cake.
Of course the fact that the fledglings are clumsy and reluctant flyers does make them easy targets for predators. A few jackdaws landed in the willow tree and looked around for the source of the tweeting. I couldn’t help myself: I shooed them away. And one of the crows saw other jackdaws off as well, as if to say these are my juicy little morsels, not anyone else’s. And then a squirrel turned up. He’d tight rope walked his way along the electric cable that passes through the tree. I know they raid nests and they might just be tempted to go after a clumsy fledgling or two. It was like the bush telegraph had put the word out: easy meals in the willow tree today. Of course we shouldn’t interfere with nature, but then again…
…I shooed him off as well. They’ll have enough time to do their predatory stuff when we’re not around.