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Your Blue Tit Questions Answered

Eric Dempsey
Eric Dempsey
Eric Dempsey
Eric Dempsey is a professional bird guide, broadcaster, presenter, speaker and writer. He is the author of the best-selling 'Complete Guide to Ireland' s Birds' published by Gill & MacMillan in 1993 with a revised 2nd edition produced in 2002. He is also the author of 'The Pocket Guide to the Common Birds of Ireland'. He is a regular contributor to 'Mooney Goes Wild' and has also made numerous TV appearances, including a documentary on his birdwatching life as part of RTÉ's 'Obsessions' series.

Wren Feeding Bluetit
Please find attached three photographs of blue tits being fed by a parent, and a wren. I should like to know if this a common occurrence. I took the photo's approx five years ago in John Ronan's garden, The Maudlin's, New Ross.
Edward W Delaney, New Ross

Hi Edward
Wren Feeding Bluetit
Wow...what a superb photograph. I have never seen such a thing but here is the proof. Parent birds are proned to respond to the bright gape (mouth) of chicks. Most young birds have either bright yellow or red gapes and it is this that gets the parents to feed the young.

However, for a Wren to be feeding Blue Tits is most unusual. There are several possible explanations. One is that this is a female Wren that has
Bluetit Feeding Chick
possibly lost her brood of young. Perhaps she was nesting nearby and when she lost her chicks, suddenly became stimulated by bright gapes begging for food. She may have still been in 'feeding chick' mode and simply continued on feeding whatever mouths that caught her eye. It may also be an unmated bird, who simply had no chicks and has adopted a brood. Or finally, perhaps it was just those big bright gapes that caught the Wrens attention. I have seen images of House Sparrows feeding goldfish that came to the surface to feed in a pond. Once the sparrows saw the bright red mouth of the goldfish, she started putting food into their mouths. Once the fish cottoned on to this, they used to come to the surface, open their mouths and were fed. So I think, whatever started this Wren to feed the tits in the first place, it is the bright gapes that have kept it coming back to feed the chicks.

Nest Box
In March 2004 I placed a tit box in our garden as I noticed at least four pairs feeding on our various hanging feeders during the winter. A couple immediately took to the box and built their nest before the end of March.

She laid six eggs and hatched the lot.

Blue Tit in Nest Box
In 2005 I cleaned our the box and placed some paper shaving in it. Came March and we were shattered to find our back garden completely strewn with these shavings as if it was the start of a paper chase. We had obviously made a very grave mistake! We then watched 'himself' rebuild another nest to which 'madam' took to immediately and laid a further six eggs. Prior to 'madam' sitting we noticed himself pecking away at the entrance hole as if he was marking this as his territory. Quite a large amount of wood was chipped away in '05.

Coming to 2006 we did not touch the box and sure enough come mid March the pair showed interest yet again. This year, however, he has pecked an enormous amount away from either side of the entrance. This, I hasten to add, makes no increase in the aperture size. When looked upon from afar this area looks like too enormous tear drops as evidence in the attached photographs. Once again he has replenished and refurbished the nest and she is about to lay.

I am very curious to know as to the rational behind this chipping away of the box. Last year we placed another nesting box a metre or so away from this one but as yet it has not attracted a lot of attention. One pair do, however, seem to fancy it and 'himself' has started peck away at the right-hand side of the aperture of this box.

Can you please explain this carry on of chipping away at the entrance.
Henry G. Bellew, Foxrock

Hi Henry
I too have a nest box which has been used by a pair(s) of Blue Tits for the last ten years. Each year I too notice the first bird to inspect the nestbox (usually the male) peck at the sides of the entrance as if to make it bigger. I actually think the reason behind this is make sure that it is large enough (although it obviously is) but secondly, I think it is a natural task that the birds undertake. Nestboxes are not very naturla so most birds when they find a suitable cavitity in a tree, they need to make sure that the entrance hole is perfect for them and the chicks. They may need to make it bigger.

I also wonder if it isn't just showing off to a female that he has found this perfect nest site and has worked hard to make it perfect?

As for your other nest box...I woudl suggest that having another so close to the first is not a good idea. its always better for them to be well spread out. having a second box so close may even put the pair off from nesting. They don't want rival birds so close, competing for the same food. So I think it would be a good idea to remove the second box and place it at least 20m away from the first.

A friend of mine in Newmarket Co. Cork has been wondering for years about a family of blue tits that nest every year in a wall outside the front of her house. They are there year after year and she is wondering a) how long they live b) is it the same family (or subsequent generations) and c) and most importantly, HOW DO THEY DECIDE WHO INHERITS THE NEST FOR THE FOLLOWING YEAR?????

As I say, this question has been exercising her now for about 20 years and she would really be curious to know the answer.
Susannah Kingston

Hi Susannah
some very good questions indeed. Firstly...how long do Blue Tits live. Well, for many small birds, their life span is very short...many young birds die in their first months but those that do survive to breed usually only last for a year or two. In fact there is one very interesting statistic that suggests the average life span of a Robin is a mere 13 months! So to answer the first question, perhaps a Blue Tit may only live for two years if he is lucky. There is one record of a Blue Tit living for 12 years and 4 months but that is the exception!!!

So, is it the same family... well, it certainly isn't the same adults that have been nesting year after year but it may well be the same gene pool. It may well be chicks that have survived and who have successfully taken over the territory that are nesting there now...a nd that sort of answers the third question. Who decides who gets the nest site... the strongest male secures the territory. It may not even be from the family that used the site in the past... perhaps a bird from nearby. If the nest site is good, all Blue Tits will quickly find it. Only the strongest will keep it!

I want to know what's wrong with my nesting box. It's got the right size circular hole, but in ten years - no bird has nested in it. I've had interested tits. The male goes in, even cleans it up a bit - but the females seem to turn it down. Today there was a male smoothing down the rough edges to the entrance for a while - he's been at this for a few mornings. A female joined him insode the box twice - but flew out each time after a second or two. What is wrong?
Oliver Murphy, Bray

Hi Oliver
It is hard to get inside the mind of a female Blue Tit...what is it that she wants from a good nesting site. There may be a few reasons. Perhaps it is situated in the wrong place. Boxes should not face south or west (into direct sunlight). This can make the box too hot for chicks. Perhaps its not high enough or safe enough...birds need to feel that they are nesting in a secure palce. It could be that there is a better nest site somewhere else in the area...a hole in the wall or a tree that has served them well for years. Finally, it is worth taking down the box and cleaning it each winter. There can be lots of things that get into a box. I have had wasps build a nest in the box one year...so perhaps it just isn't clean enough for her...you may have very fussy Blue Tits on your hands.

Great Tit in the mirror
I know that next week's programme is about Blue Tits, but I have currently an interesting experience with a pair of Great Tits. The birds are nesting in a nest box in my garden, and they show aggression to their image in the wing mirrors of may car when it is parked close to the nest box. I have heard about Pied Wagtails showing aggression to their image in car wing mirrors before, but never Great Tits. Is this unusual?
Frank O'Duffy, Nenagh,

Hi Frank
During the breeding season, all birds tend to be more agressive to other potential rivals. So a relfection will/can spark off an attack. It seems likely that this is waht your bird is doing. It may well have happened by accident...perhaps he was gelaning insects from the mirror and suddenly found himself facing a rival. You are indeed correct, Pied Wagtails are well known for this behaviour. I have not seen Great Tits do this but I have seen Chaffinches do it. Perhaps birds just need to come face to face with these make-believe rivals before this behaviour is sparked off in them. All very interesting stuff indeed.

Just wanted to tell you that yesterday morning a little blue tit came in my bedroom window which was only opened a small bit.

He didn't panic and lit on the lamp shade and waited until I opened the window wide and then he flew out.

Hi Rosemarie
You did the right thing. Many people try to catch the bird which causes them to panic. The best thing is to open the windows and they will find their own way out. Well done!

I have a hole in rough stone wall which has reared several families of blue tits over the years. I heard you mention some time back that tits may not always come back because there may be too many parasites in it. I toyed with the idea of spraying an insecticide into it during the Winter but in the end I didn't. This year the hole was investigated a few times but was not occupied. Would spraying have been a good idea and if so, is it too late to spray it for this year?

Hi Patrick
You mention that the pair of Blue Tits are no longer nesting in the hole that they have used for the last two years but that they are not there this year. There may be several reasons for this...perhaps they have found a better place? It may also be quite dirty inside. However, you also mentioned that you thought about spraying an insecticide to clear it of any parasites. I really would NOT recommend that you spray an insecticide... I don't like insecticides at all and if the birds did nest, I would be concerned about any poison residue that may linger. AT this stage it is probaly too late to do anything anyway but why don't you put up a nest box in the area. That way you can clear out the box each year without resorting to spraying an insecticide.

I have had blue tits nesting in a bird box in the garden for two years in a row. Unfortunately I cannot open the box to clean it out after the nesting season as advised. Is this a problem.

Hi Adele
Cleaning out a nest box is always a good idea. There can be a lot of dirt and insects inside the box which may put birds off. Of course, in the wild, Blue Tits don't have people who go around the woodlands cleaning out their natural nesting holes do they? Of course not...the birds do it themselves. So while having a box that allows you gain access will always be a more attractive nesting choice for the birds (it saves them having to clean it thmeselves), in the natural scheme of things it is not a requirement for them to choose the box. It simply helps them make a choice!!

I have a nest-box in my garden for a numer of years now, which my father-in-law made. The blue tits nested eventually when I turned it northwards on your advice. For the past two years, and again this year, the blue tits have not nested. Can you advise me as to why?
Rhona Hyde

Hi Rhona
In truth it is hard to explain why birds use a next box one year and not the next. It may be a different pair that have taken over your area and have not taken to your box or they simply may have found a better location to nest. It is hard to get inside the minds and thinking of these birds. I have had them nesting in my nestbox for over 10 years but in that period there has been two summers when they did not choose the box as their preferred site.

Have you cleaned out the box...that might help??

Just wondering we have 2 feeders in our back yard here and the birds , mostly bluetits, go for the feeder with the peanuts, like in the picture in the Web site, instead of the feeder with the wild seeds. I dont think that peanuts are available in the wild.

Hi Niall
You are right, peanuts do not occur in the wild in Ireland but Blue Tits will always go for the likes of peanuts over wild seed. The seed is better food for finches. There is a lot more energy value in a peanut and the birds know this very well. If you put out black sunflower seeds, you will find that the Blue Tits (and Coal Tits), will also eat them.

We've had a Blue Tit box in our garden for a few years now and have been lucky enough to see the chicks leaving the nest early in the morning each year so far. The first and second year (2003/2004) they left in early/mid June but last year they left in mid-May. It is wonderful to see them go, but unfortunately we have a plentiful supply of Magpies in this area, and I was alarmed last year to see the Magpies hunting down the chicks in neighbouring gardens. We love the Blue Tits but do not want to simply provide the Magpies with ready fodder. I even considered removing the box for this reason, but decided to persist for another year. Have you any advice on how to protect chicks from Magpies, particularly close to the house as I might be able to do something if prepared? Also what do you think of feeding mealy worms to the birds? Is this a good idea? PS: The Blue Tit cam is infinitely better than the infinitely unwatchable and infinitely depressing Big Brother and the like.
Tom and Joan

Hi Tom and Joan
Ahhhh, this is the big question. How to stop Magpies taking chicks. The truth is that you can't do anythibg at all. It is horrible to see but consider what is happening. Magpies and songbirds have being doing battle with each other for hundreds of years in Ireland. Blue Tits are one of those species at the bottom of the food chain. Magpies are towards the top. That is the reason why Blue Tits produce so many young...sometimes as many as 16 chicks. All that is required to survive from those 16 birds are two to keep the population of Blue Tits stable (two to replace the adults). If two chicks survive out of every brood that is produced in Ireland, then the population remains the same. If three survive, Blue Tit numbers would go up by 50%...if 16 survived...well, maths was never my strong point but you get the picture.

What I am saying is that Magpies killing chicks is a horrible thing to see but it is all part of the natural world and the reason why Blue Tits produce so many young in the first place! Some meal worms might help provide a good supply of food for chicks...worth trying.

When should I stop if at all, feeding from my bird table with seed and my hanging feeder with peanuts.
Paddy Kenneally

Hi Paddy
There is no need to stop feeding the birds during the summer...in fact it provides an easy meal for the adults when they are busy trying to find food for the young. You will find that fewer birds will visit the feeders so perhaps reduce the number of feeders you have as food can go off.

We have had a camera in a nestbox for the last three years and have not seen a brood successfully reared yet. Before we installed the camera, the nestbox had been occupied each year for about three years in succession so we knew it was a viable site.The year before last, the nest was built, the eggs were laid(5) and the female incubated them but none hatched and eventually she abandoned them. I sent the eggs to the Wexford Wildfowl Reserve where they examined them to see if they had been fertilised and they had. The chicks were partly developed and had died so we were advised that our female had let them get cold at some stage. We were so disappointed.

Last year, the nest was built and the female came in each night around 8oclock and slept there but no eggs were laid and she eventually abandoned the box. This year, the nest has been built for about a month now and the female(I presume) is coming in at night to sleep but she is not sitting during the day yet and I am wondering should she not be incubating at this stage?We are in Naas and I know that we are always a few weeks behind Dublin in terms of plants flowering in the garden, so I am hoping that all hope is not yet lost! I cannot see if there are any eggs in the nest but that is not to say that there are none, as the year before last, when there were eggs, the female covered them over each time she left the box.Do you know why the female did not lay last year, having taken over the box,made a nest and roosted for weeks? Could the same female return to the box a second time and repeat this behaviour?

P.S.On the subject of frogs hibernating, I thought they always hibernated in mud at the bottom of a pond, but in Spring this year, we unrolled an old carpet which had been used in the garden to keep down weeds and we were amazed to find dozens of frogs of varying sizes in the carpet folds. Had they spent the winter in it?
Liz Butler

Hi Liz
Some good questions which I will try to answer. Firstly, are you sure that the bird coming in each night last year was the female? As I said on the show last Sat, both male and female are very alike...the male is brighter and slightly more colourful than the female but of course you can only judge brightness when you see them side by side. Also, when you see a bird on a camera, how can you tell one from the other??? I can't!!! One possible solution why the bird didn't lay eggs last year is that it was a 'he'. Blue Tits will often start two nests and the female is the one who makes the decision where to nest. She may well have been in a hole close by sitting on eggs but he may have been using the nestbox as a very warm, comfy and safe place to spend each night.

As for this year...yes, spring is a little late everywhere so it may be that the bird visiting is the female...she won't stay for long periods in the nest box until all the eggs are laid. This can be done very early in the morning so maybe you miss the moment? She will cover them before she leaves. So all is not lost yet...she may have eggs. Then again, it may be a repeat of last year and perhaps it is the male using the box for roosting. This is real 'reality tv' isn't it!

The eggs that were lost previously may have been a first attempt by young birds to breed. The other possibilty is that the male may have been killed so the female had to leave the eggs for long periods to feed herself...thus the eggs would go cold. If the male is still there, he will feed her and she will sit on the eggs almost constantly. I suspect that perhaps she was alone and couldn't maintain the long incubation without leaving the eggs to look for food.

As for hibernating frogs...I'll leave Eanna to that!!!

Hope this answers all of your questions...keep me posted on how they get on this year.

Dear Mooney goes wild
I tuned in to the blue tit nest briefly to-day - Saturday, about 17.05, and the mother blue tit was on the nest. I couldn't make out which way she was settled, but part of her seemed to be moving regularly, like breathing, or a 'pulse', that was clearly visible for a couple of minutes; then she stopped, started again briefly, and stopped. What was she doing?
Yours sincerely
Norma Jessop

Hi Norma
Eric Dempsey here from the Mooney Goes Wild show.... a very interesting question indeed. I too noticed this 'pulsing' as you so accurately described. We humans take on average, about 14 breaths per minute. Small birds are more highly charged than that and take many more breaths per minute (depending on their activity). So, what you are seeing is the bird breathing quickly...the position of the bird allows this to be very obvious. Some birds like hummingbirds (the smallest birds in the world) take 400 breaths per minute when resting... pushing that to 600 breaths when flying. Birds also pant to cool down (they don't have sweat glands... not quite like a dog but with beak open and breathing very fast) so that may also acount for this pulsing effect.

How can birds see worms from up in the air. I think this site is very good.
Jamie Kelly

Hi Jamie
Eric Dempsey here from the Mooney Goes Wild team... a very good question. However, when Blue Tits are looking for food, they don't spot it from the air but search for caterpillars and insects under leaves of trees and bushes. So they search them out carefully... this is called gleaning.

Recently we put up a nesting box for birds, and a pair of bluetits duly took up residence and began to build their nest. This continued for a week - and we put up a second box about 4 feet from the first. The first nest was abandoned - we did'nt know why until this morning, Sat. 13th. May. While listening to your programme, we discovered that the reason was that they were too near each other. We have now removed the second nest. Question:- is it too late now for a pair to re-inhabit the nest-box? Love the programme - we never miss it.
Eileen de Brun

Hi Eileen
Eric Dempsey here from the Mooney Goes Wild team... yes, I think it is probably a little late for a pair to start nesting in the nestbox. Blue Tits will only have a single brood... unlike other species like Blackbirds and Robins which will have two or three. As you see, the Blue Tit nesting season is well under way and is timed with the emergence of suitable food. So, if birds started to nest they would miss out on the food supply if they had chicks too late in the season. So, I think it will be next year before they come back. Clean out the box in Jan to make sure all debris from the previous year is removed.

I live in a very remote valley in Wicklow and every year the Cuckoo can be heard at this time throughout the day. This year for the first time I have heard him calling throughout the night. It sounds strange at 1p.m. I have never hear the the female respond at this hour. I have a lot of Bird boxes and find that during the winter they are occupied by Wrens, Finches and Tits. For this reason I clean out the old nests when the young have departed and put in a bit of sheep's wool to help them through the winter,
Yours Sincerely
Eamonn O'Flaherty

Hi Eamonn
Eric Dempsey here from the Mooney Goes Wild show. Some very interesting observations there. Firstly, the cuckoo calling at night. This year is the first time that I have heard about cuckoos calling at night... I have never heard one call at night. Of course, living in the city, I may not be in the right place to comment but I have spend many nights out looking for owls and other nocturnal species... in all my years I have never heard a cuckoo at night. Yet, yours is just one of several reports I have received about this this spring. I can't explain it but will check further.

As for the winter use of nestboxes... I think its great that you put wool inside for the wintering birds... very thoughtful of you. Birds use nestboxes in winter... a perfect roosting site. Wrens will often roost in groups and there is a record of over 50 Wrens roosting together in a box during a very cold winter in GB some years ago.

Where does the male sleep at night and how can the chicks breathe when the mother sits on them?

Hi Jenny
Eric Dempsey here from the Mooney Goes Wild team... the male will sleep close to the nest.. probaly in a safe place like a hole in a wall or in snug in ivy. At first light he will be up and about and back to the routine of feeding the young. The young do seem very tightly packed but they are able to breath ok under the female... she is not sitting too heavily on them

Which chicks gets fed first and how do the parents know which one has been fed already?

Hi Guys
Thats a very good question... the truth is that the parents feed the chick that makes the loudest noise and presents his mouth first. The parents don't know if the same chick has been feed before or not. However, when there is a plentiful supply of food, all the chicks will get an equal share.

Hi Robert, Kevin, Martin and Conor

Eric Dempsey here from the Mooney Goes Wild show...some good questions there which I will try to answer.

1. Did you know much about the Blue Tits before this?
Answer: Well, there has been lots of studies done on nesting birds over the years but this is the first time I have been able to watch birds on a nest. I have seen many things that are new to me. I was very intertested in the way the female responded to the big thunder and lightening storm we had a week ago. She was very very alert.

2. I saw the love scene and I enjoyed it - I think it's interesting that the male hung around for a while even after he had fed the female - was he waiting for something?
Answer: This is the kind of thing I think the webcam is showing for the first time. Why did he sit there for several minutes? In truth, I don't think we know for sure. He seemed to be waiting for something but what? Perhaps he was curious or maybe he could hear something...I am afraid I can't be sure...what do you think yourselves?

3.Do you know if the birds will lay another clutch?
Answer: No, they will only have one clutch... once this family leave, that will be the end of the breeding season for the parents

4. If there's no lactose in cream, would they be able to eat icecream?
Answer: I am not sure if they would or could eat icecream, but Blue Tits were famous for attacking the tops of old bottles of milk.. when they came in glass bottles with silver tops. They would peck open the top and drink the creamy milk.

5.Can they eat grated carrot and get carotene? If they ate lots of carrot, would their feathers turn very orange? We're also wondering if they ate onions, would they cry - or would their feathers change colour?
Answer: No, they wouldn't eat either carrots or onions. So we don't really know if they would change colour or not... probably not but we can't be sure. Birds don't cry tears so I don't think onions would cause them any problems.

Hope this answers all your questions

I've been watching the webcam on my PC at work (we have bluetits nesting in my garden in Cardiff so it's like having a camera inside our own box!!) and I've just spotted somthing a bit worrying!. The female came in to feed the chicks. Then, after foostering in around them for a bit, she appeared to remove one chick and flew out of the nest with it in her beak. I paused the live stream and looked at the clip again to make sure - there definately appeared to be little legs attached to the thing she took out and they were wriggling. The time would be approx 13.26 - 13.28 or so.

Hi Aishling
It would be very unusual for the female to remove a live chick from the nest...she may take out dead nestlings if they are small enough for her to carry. Could it have been a alrge insect that she brought in that was too big for the chicks to eat and that she then removed? I will try to see the footage from that period and check for myself!

I accidentally disturbed a pheasant at the end of my garden while strimming the long grass. Fortunately I didn't actually touch her, but after she flew away I saw to my dismay that she nesting on 8 eggs. I've since read that pheasants seldom return to a nest once disturbed... any idea of what I could do to encourage her back (probably nothing) or what could be done with the eggs... Like find a broody hen?!

Any advice appreciated! I love the show,
Mel Ó Cinnéide,
Gorey, Co. Wexford,

Hi Mel
fleeing from nests is part of what female ground nesters do when they feel threatened. The nest and eggs are usually well hidden and, when the danger passes, the female will almost certainly return. I expect she will come back.

I have two nest boxes in my garden. This year blue tits started building in one of them and stopped before they had it completed. The other box which is only about 12 feet from it was occupied by great tits. There has been no activity at this box since last Tuesday and within the last few days i noticed a youg tit which appears to be a great tit feeding on the feeder in the garden.I checked the box today Saturday and found 5 dead chicks and one egg.

What would cause the deaths and could the chick I saw feeding be from that nest. I hope to set up a camera in the box next year. Regards,

Hi Brian
yours is not the first failed nest I have heard about this year. It is hard to know what may have caused the deaths of the chicks. Perhaps a fod supply shortage or bad timing. Another concern would be the use of insecticides. I am not suggesting that you would use them, but in cities, many neighbours use chemiclas to control greenfly and caterpillars...if young chicks were feed a supply of dying caterpillars, the poisons might build up. But in truth, it really is hard to say for certain what happened. As the for the bird on the feeder...it may well have been a chick that did survive...if so, he/she did well.

I was standing beside a stream recently and its banks were covered in gorse with a few broom mixed through it. Further back was some mixed woodland.

I noticed a brown bird with a white throat feeding in these shrubs. It was a little smaller than a house sparrow. What was most surprising was that it seemed to have the ability to hover -hummingbird like-. It would hover and then take something from the flower or near the flower on these shrubs.

I didn't have binoculars and I couldn't decide exactly where on the shrubs it was feeding. Sometimes it would land on a branch and take something, other times it would feed while hovering.

This was observed near Mount Leinster. Can anyone on your panel identify this bird for me?

Best regards.

Hi Walter
Eric Dempsey here from the Mooney Goes Wild show...several small birds do hover (although not quite true hovering the way hummingbirds do). From your description of the size, the colour and the habitat, I would suggest that it might be a Wren. Wrens and Goldcrests frequently 'hover' when catching insects of taking insects from leaves. I have seen them do it myself. Gorse is a perfect Wren habitat and it may have been removing caterpillars or insects from small flowers that would not have held its weight.

Love the web cam pictures!!

My daughter has a nest of bluetits in her Bray, Co. Wicklow garden - in a very unusual but des res, i.e. an old decorative water pump - with two entrances - they go into their nest via a hold near the lever and exit via the spout. However the nest is not visible.

Philippa Hogan

Hi Philippa
sounds like a great nesting site. Blue Tits will use many places...I have heard of them using busy traffic lights. However, a water pump is a new one on me!.

Hi Derek,

Enthralled, as everybody else is, to watch nature close up.

However, I have a question. On Thursday evening, at about 7 pm, a human hand appeared in the box, holding something. What exactly was that about? We were told when we were children, that you never interfere with a bird's nest, as the birds may then abandon it.

Also could we have some information on the radio programme as to what exactly the birds are doing when they leave the nest to collect food. How far do they go? How do they find the caterpillars or whatever?

With every good wish for the continued success of your magnificent project,
Eanna Condon.

Hi Eanna
as Derek may have already said, there certainly was not a hand at the nestbox...not quite sure what you did see. You are also right, never disturb a nest...the parents may well abandon it. As for what they do when they leave the nest...they search the trees and shrubs for suitable food...it is called gleaning. It takes a lot of effort to find enough food...they are hard working parents at this time of the year.


Hi To All on the mooney show. Can you please advise if i should still feed the nesting birds with peanuts as i have lots of bluetits in my garden all winter that i fed,but somebody told me not to feed them when they have hatched out young as peanuts may choke them?. Can you adivse please.

Graignamanagh listener

Hi Graignamanagh Listener
Yes it is ok to feed birds in summer. It provides a good food supply for the adults and they will not force feed big peanuts to their chicks. So, keep on feeding but don't put out too much food...it can go off...keep a fresh supply going during the summer.


Do the mother and father both feed the chicks and if so how can you tell which is which?


Hi Andrea
yes, both parents feed the chicks...although it is the female that will sit tight on the nest at night. As I said on the show a few weeks ago, the male and female can be hard to tell apart. Unlike birds like Blackbirds where the male is black with a bright orange bill and the female is brown and quite dull, male and female Blue Tits are very similiar. The male is brighter than the female...more yellow on the breast...bluer on the head. Having said that it is very hard to tell them apart unless you see them side by side and when they suddenly arrive in, feed the chicks and go, well it can be next to impossible to tell which one was there.


I have a question. How does the mother ensure that all of the young chicks get a share of the food she brings to them; or does she bother? It would seem that on each return to the nest she feeds only one or two of the chicks. Is it simply survival of the fittest; those who can scream loudest and push the strongest get fed and the weakest will not survive? Or has nature a way of effecting a fair distribution?

I was delighted to read that your listener ratings have gone up. Keep up the good work.

Donal Carroll

Hi Donal
It really is a case of he who shouts loudest gets fed first. In times when there is enough food, all the chicks will get an equal share...in bad times the loudest will get fed first...and so on down the line. It really is a case of the loudest surviving if times are bad. It is natures way of ensuring that at least some of the chicks survive.


Are there enough caterpillars for them - or are they starving?!

Can you collect a supply for them!

Jamie Peabody

Hi Jamie
as the chicks will need about 1,000 caterpillars each, it would be hard for a human to collect a supply of food for them...the parents are much better that we ever would be for finding food. However, mealworms can be bought from fishing shops (they are used for bait) and make a good substitute.


I have just discovered that a garden bird (I think a tit) is nesting in the exit vent of the cooker extractor fan of the house we recently bought. The house has been unoccupied for some time, and the vent was damaged allowing sufficient space for the bird to get in. I saw it fly in today. I can hear chirping in the cooker hood. How long will it be before they fly the nest. I do not want to disturb them. Fortunately we are not moving until the end of June. Jane Cremin

Hi Jane
as you are hearing young birds, that means the eggs have hatched and the chicks are being fed. It will take an average of 16-20 days for the chicks to be old enough to leave the nest. So, if you're not moving in until the end of June, they will be well gone by then. As Blue Tits don't have a second brood, you will no problems.


Congrats on the cam in the nest box. Its amazing to have a look at a heretofore invisible world. I was just wondering does the mother or father bird monitor who gets what to eat or is it a case of the greediest wins out. Many thanks again for this unique view

Declan McCarthy

Hi Declan,
good question...it really is a case of who shouts the loudest. Basically the bird that is the strongest will open his gape first, make the most noise and get fed first. In good times, all the young will be fed but when food is in short supply, the loudest will survive.


Am thoroughly enjoying the Mooney cam of the nesting Blue Tits. No gardening for the past few wet days ,so a perfect opportunity to do nothing and watch the birds inside. Clearing an herbaceous plant 3 weeks ago I found a nest very near the ground, in the plant. There is a southfacing wall behind this plant so was a nice warm spot. What bird would nest so near the ground. Some time last year or maybe the year before on the BBC, their wild life prog. showed a Wagtail's nest very near the ground, in a ditch by the roadside. Could it be a Wagtail.

Kay O'Flynn.

Hi Kay
Yes, the nest you found close to the ground could be that of a wagtail...they can nest quite close to the ground and in the kind of spot you've described. Nests are wonderful constructions aren't they!


The webcam on the Blue Tits' nest is fantastic. I've been watching it in work, and so have my colleagues - productivity levels in our office are probably down since we started looking at it!! The Q&A on Blue Tits is excellent as well [all the office has read that too]. Today I could see approx 7 nestlings. What happened to the eggs that didn't hatch?


Hi Claire
Many thanks for all the great comments on the webcam. The eggs that don't hatch are removed by the parents.


I have a family of Blue Tits (again this year) nesting in the top (head) of an old Water-pump.

Up to last weekend we had 9 eggs... this week there is major activity as hatching has begun !!

What feed/food would you recommend me provide... apart from caterpillars!!. Water is immediately adjacent.

Enjoying the show!!!
Sean Nagle,

Hi Sean
there really is no need to put out any food although by keeping a good supply of fresh unsalted penuts in the area will help the parents. Some birds take to mealworms which can be found in fishing shops (they are used as bait) but some Blue Tits don't go for them.


My mother has a bird house attached to a wall in her back garden. Some blue tits have built their nest in the bird house. She has noticed though that a magpie has been trying to get at the nest (ie standing on the roof of the bird house and putting its peck in the hole of the bird house.) Is there anyway of keeping the magpie away from the bird house.

Fiona Mulvanny

Hi Fiona
I'm afraid that its next to impossible to prevent this happening. Magpies, being at the top end of the food chain and being one of the most intelligent of the birds, will be able to hear the chicks inside. I expect the parents will encourage the chicks to leave when it is safe... it is always a very dangerous time in a chicks life. Most will die in the first few weeks... of course that is why small birds produce so many young.

Hi again,

We were just wondering if the unseasonally cold weather will affect the young blue tits??

Helen & Katie Ryan

Hi Helen and Katie
I have to admit that this is a bit of a worry for all young birds at the moment. Over the last week I have been told of several Blue Tit broods which have died. Its not so much the cold but, if it is raining very heavily for several days, it becomes harder to find enough food for the chicks. So lets hope for an improvement in the weather. As our chicks get older, they will need more and more food... if the weather stays as it has been for the last few days, the parents will begin to struggle to find the food required to raise them all.


I was baking a pie and I had some pastry left over.

If I put some seeds through it and cooked for a while, would it be okay to give it to the birds?


Hi Vincent
Yes!! Any such food will always be welcomed by birds... pastry with seeds sounds quite nice. Lucky birds!!

Hi all,

Superbly interesting webcam and the information you have posted on your website is wonderful. I'm watching it avidly with my class of Junior and Senior Infants in Glenasmole. We were wondering when will the baby birds be ready to leave the nest and will the blue tits use the nest to roost on= ce they have fledged?


Mary McColgan

Hi Mary and the Junior and Senior Infants classes in Glenasmole
It will take about 16-20 days before the chicks are old enough to leave the nest... so it will be at least another week before they leave. Once they go, the nest will no longer be used. The birds won't return and use it as a roost, althiugh it may be used in winter by other birds like Wrens.

Hi Eric,
I tuned into the web cam last week and I have been hooked ever since. Its fascinating to see the parents feeding the young.

I have noticed a couple of things while viewing

1) There seemed to me last week to be seven - eight nestlings and this week there only seems to be six

2) Are they using the feather on the left hand side of the nest as a shade for the nestlings. It seemed to be there all the time up until this morning Wednesday 24th when it was discarded to one side however I checked b= ack in after lunch and again it is in the position where it seems to be shading the nestlings from the light entering the nestbox through the entrance hole.

3) Didn't those little birds soon get toilet trained the way they turn their bums up before they do their droppings is unreal.

Well done to all working on this project

Brendan O Shea

Hi Brendan
yes, I too reckoned that there were at least seven/eight chicks but that came down to six. We obviously lost one/two....they would be removed by the parents. As for the feather. I don't think it is a deliberate thing that it is positioned like a shade. that was brought in and simply placed near the top of the cup of the nest. With all the action fo the chicks and parents it was moved about but seems to have positioned itself like a shade. It is probaly stuck into the grass and so will stay like that for the rest of the nesting period. They are indeed very well trained when it comes to droppings...it would make the nest very unclean if they didn't remove the faceal sacks the way they do.

Hi Eric,
I have some questions for you regarding the wonderful webcam, but first, Congratulations to the Mooney team on the successful projection of this miracle into our homes.

I marvel at the energy of the mother and father of this hungry brood! Are we seeing just six or seven nestlings? What will the mother Blue Tit do with any eggs which have not hatched? I have already witnessed her eating empty egg shells! What will the mother Blue Tit do with any nestlings which die within the nest - or is this likely?


Hi Hilary
firstly, many thanks for the comments on the webcam...glad you're enjoying it! As for your questions..

It can be difficult to see how many nestlings there are at any one time. There were certainly seven at one stage but that came down to six. If an egg fails to hatch, it will be removed by the parents. Likewise, if a chick dies, if it is small it too will be removed. Problems occur if a large chick dies... it is simply too heavy and big for a parent to remove. This then creates a very unhygenic state within the box... if it is big, then that also means that the surviving chicks are also big and close to fledging so it should be ok. Is it likely that chicks will die? This year I have heard of many nests that have failed. It is hard to know why but perhaps the dreadful weather has made finding food very difficult... and chicks need a constant supply of food. Lets hope Dereks chicks will make it through.

If not, I think we should declare a National Day of Mourning... don't you agree?

Hi there,
Last Saturday on Mooney Goes Wild you were discussing how the parent birds know which nestling to feed next and whether the biggest gape gets most food. When I was researching House Sparrows I came across something that might apply to Bluetits as well. I'm can't remember where I read it - sorry. But it seems that in some bird species, the brightness of the colour of the inside of the mouth fades as the nestling is fed. So the parent looks for the brightest gape - if the colours are intense, the nestling is hungry; if the colours are duller it means the nestling has been fed. This ensures that all the nestlings get a fair share.

I suspect this only applies to species where all the eggs hatch at the same time. I know that in birds of prey, where the eggs hatch at intervals, the nestling that hatches first gets a head start. It will always be bigger than its siblings and it will always get the lion's share of whatever food is going. This makes it more likely that, if food is scarce, at least one nestling will survive.

Best of luck with your brood! I live in North Donegal and I think the birds here are a bit behind yours. I have nestboxes on both gables of my house and have Bluetits in both. There's been a lot of to-ing and fro-ing for the past 3 days so I think the nestlings have just hatched recently. The House Sparrows brought their brood to the bird feeders for the first time this morning - 3 juveniles, all with bright yellow edges to their gapes - lovely!

For the record, the following species are all nesting within about 300 metres of the house - Robin, Blackbird, Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Dunnock, Wren, Stonechat, Sedge Warbler, Grasshopper Warbler, Willow Warbler, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Magpie, Meadow Pipit, Great Tit, Coal Tit and Goldcrest, and best of all, there's a Corncrake calling just down the road! We also get visits from Kestrel, Buzzard and Sparrowhawk. So it just goes to show, it doesn't matter where you are in Ireland, there are plenty of birds to see if you take the time to watch.

Sandy Alcorn

Hi Sandy
fascinating stuff indeed. I wonder if the gape colour actually fades or if the mouth isn't opened wide enough to expose the colours. In some birds there are patterns of red,orange, black or white spots within the gape. It is considered that these may glow in UV, creating a 'target' for the parents to aim at. Whether this fades if the chick is fed or not I am unsure of...I have been unable to find a reference for that but, if you can remember where you came across it, I would love to read more! When a chick is fully fed, it may not open its gape wide, thus not revealing the target...perhaps this may be a more likely explaination? In the case of the Blue Tits, they simply have a yellowish, un-patterned gape so this would not apply to them. Again, if you remember where you read this, please let me know....I am always keen to learn!!!

Hi there,
I heard about your website just last week and have accessed it 2-3 times per day since. I've also e.mailed it to friends, and family in America, Australia, England and Germany. It is absolutely wonderful.

We have a Starling nesting in our roof at present, and her young, have also hatched. Amazingly when I have logged on to your website, the live website, I have observed the starling mother feeds her young at the exact time the blue tit on your website feeds hers. Initially I thought it was coincidental, but my observation appears to show a feeding pattern, the patterns and feeding times for both birds, coincide every day.

Thank you so much for providing us with wonderful mother nature. Unfortunately something we take less notice of today, because of our hectic lifestyles, and how much our environment has changed over the years.

Anne Jones.

Hi Anne
firstly many thanks for the comments on the website...and I do share your sentiments that our hectic lifestyles may be leaving us with less time to enjoy what we have around us. As for the timing of your starlings with the Blue Tits. When the chicks begin to grow, they make ever more demands on the parents. It is fascinating to hear that the starlings are returning to their brood at about the same time as the Blue Tits. I suppose they have to keep going throughout the day and, if they start searching for food at about the same time each morning, then a similiar pattern of feeding might occur.

We are watching the blue tits on the web cam at home and in school, it's great. How many caterpillars does the parent bring back in its beak each time? It feeds a few chicks each time, so I was wondering if it's a few caterpillars or does the parent chop it up? Thanks,
Niamh O'Driscoll,
Rochestown, Co. Cork

Hi Niamh
a good question...the parents can bring several small prey items (caterpillars, greenfly etc) in at once and she then gives one to each of the chicks...occaisionally one might get the whole lot. But because the items are so small, she wouldn't chop one caterpillar up and give pieces to them. In birds of prey like kestrels, the parents will chop up food and feed the young with small pieces when they are very young.

I was just watching and did the chick upend and present the faecal sac to the parent to take??? Am i dreaming or did this happen?

This is so great to see them grow each day but really i get nothing done at all!
Elaine O'Malley

Hi Elaine
No, you weren't dreaming... most young birds present a faecal sack to the parents. Its a nice little bundle wrapped up for the parents to remove. It has two functions. Firstly in a hole (like a nest box), it keep the inside clean. Secondly, if the droppings were done over the side, the white mess would make the nest very visible to preditors.... so the faecal sack is removed and dropped at a safe distance. Not all birds do this... birds like swallows, once they reach a certain age, simply do it over the side. They of course nest under cover so such droppings wouldn't attract a preditor. Seabirds and birds of prey also do it over the side.. but the cliffs protect them. it really is amazing to see these young birds almost stand on their heads to do it... its such an ingrained instinct.

Dear Mooney Goes Wild,
My name is Sadhbh Moriarty, am 12 years old and I live in Lissyclearig Kenmare Co. Kerry and I'm writeing to you because I would like to know do bluetits nest in the same place every year???

There are 2 bluetits nesting in the stone work under the bay window in my house and they are lovely to watch and it would be a pity if I couldn't watch them next year with my dad who loves to watch them too!!
Sadhbh Moriarty

Hi Sadhbh
Blue Tits will often use the same place each year but can sometimes decide on a new nest site if they find one. If a neighbour for example put up a nest box, they might decide that it was nicer than the hole in the wall. It is very hard to get inside the mind of a Blue Tit when they make these decisions. But if there are no new sites, I think there is a very good chance they will return to the same site again next year. They are great to watch aren't they?

I was delighted to find your web site since we have a family of great tits who have nested in our garden and are causing us some anxiety. The reason is that they have nested at the bottom of a large diameter bamboo pole which is planted upright in our garden. The nest is about 3-4 feet down the pole. The chicks sound as if they're doing fine, and the parents are very busy feeding them, but we are concerned as to how the young will fledge, unless they learn immediately to do a perfect vertical take-off. Should we be mounting a rescue operation when they are a bit older? Not sure of their exact age.
Rosie Maddock

Hi Rosie
If the adults have indeed decided to nest at the bottom of the pole...some 4 feet down, then I sort of agree with you...they may be daft! However, the chicks will probably be able to scramble/climb/flutter their way out. I think the adults probably know what they are doing but if you see a terrible fuss with very stressed looking adults, then perhaps a rescue mission may be considered!

I work most of the day, but have been wataching the blue tits, when I get home. I have noticed at night it is the female that is always attending the nest, Has something happened to him. Where his he? Can you tell me what he does at night?
Rose Barry

Hi Rose
this question has been asked several times. The male rarely spends the night at the nest... he usually roosts somewhere close by but never inside the nest. The female will spend the night keeping the chicks warm but as they grow older, she too may leave them to spend the night alone. They don't need her for warmth now that they have their own feathers and each other.

Hi Eric, Derek & Eanna
I noticed last night 1/6/06 that the mother did not spend the night on the nest (as far as I could see).

What is the reason for this? Is it that the chicks are too big now, and where does she stay at night.

I thought at first that a cat had got her but was happy to see the chicks being fed at 06.30 this morning (2/6/06)

Thanks for this brilliant idea, go raibh míle maith agaibh,

Hi Pádraig
You are not the first to notice this... the female will stay with the chicks at night when they are young... as much to keep them warm as to protect them. Hoever, as you see, its getting a little crowded in there so she will now roost close to the box. They now have feathers to keep them warm... as well as each other.

Hi Derek,
We have been linked to the web cam since before the eggs were laid and have watched with delight the progress of the bluetit family. Today as we see the eagerness to enter the big wide world outside, there is a tinge of sadness as we close the school for the long weekend as I am sure by the time we return on Tuesday they will have gone.

It has been a wonderful experience for us all here and we want to thank you for letting us join your bluetit family in your garden.
From Hazel Crawford and all at Rathmichael School,
In Shankill Co.Dublin.

Hi Hazel and all at Rathmichael school
I think you are right..I believe they will leave the nest over the next day or two...a s you can see, they are already exercising their wings. It has been a great joy to watch them go from eggs to healthy young chicks... and a great form of education as well I think!

Up until today we had a nest of 4 baby blue tits in a nest box that I had put up a couple of years ago just resting on a toilet waste pipe at the back of my house. I did not expect this nest box to be used as it was so close to the house and that we had two persian cats that are constantly in the back garden. To my horror, as I sat in my living room looking out of the french doors, I noticed one of my cats was acting suspiciously. The first thought that came into my head was that my cat had one of the baby blue tits in its mouth. I tried my hardest to free the bird from my cats mouth. By the time the bird was free it was too late and it was dead. I kept both of my cats indoors for the rest of the day as I was concerned for the remaining 3 birds. Later that afternoon i decided to check the bird box to see if the 3 birds were ok. To my suprise the birds were gone. I was wondering whether the mother took the birds because she has seen the cat attacking one of its babies, or did they leave on their own? And what is the likelihood of the mother nesting in my bird box next year after what has happened?

Thank You
Paul Orr

Hi Paul
if all the chicks are out of the nest, I suspect the cat may have killed one of them. They all leave at about the same time... one after another. Its almost as if when one does it... they all just follow. When they are out, they are easy prey. I too have cats and when I know that the time is almost ready for my Blue Tits to leave the box, my cats are confined to barracks. If you have cats, its always good to impose a curfew on them. Don't let them out first thing in the morning or last thing in the evening...and keep them in at night. This has been proved by a joint survey involving the RSPB and the Cat Protection league to reduce the numnber of casualties suffered by garden birds. It may not be the same pair that will return next year but such things don't really impact on nest choice. Its a given that young birds will be taken.. hence the reason why some birds produce so many young. The Blue Tits consider this part of the natural cycle and if they have successfully reared some chicks, then it is a successful, breeding season for them.

Where do they go now?
Kevin Devitte

Hi Kevin
as soon as the chicks leave the nest they will stay with the adults for another week or two before making their own way in life. They will usually stay in the immeidate area...they won't stray too far from the place they know and will probably say in the general area for winter. Next spring, they will disperse to find their own territory.

Blue tits, Great Tits and Greenfinches are eating the peanuts 2 to 3 times faster than during the winter. Are they feeding their chicks and, if so, is this the right diet for them?

Love the show.
Alan Wilson

Hi Alan
The adults will feed on the nuts in summer... they need a quick source of food when they are so busy with chicks. They will feed older chicks some peanuts but never very young birds. So it is ok to feed nuts in summer.

Dear Derek and panel,
Once the birds have left the nest when can I clean out the nest.


Hi Mary
I usually don't clean out the box until late in the year... but once the birds have fledged the box can be cleaned out.

Hi Derek,
Has anyone noticed how long the mammy blue tit sleeps for? Does she get any sleep at all?

How many hours sleep do the babies get?

Isabel Cooke

Hi Isabel
the female will roost overnight outside the box... the chicks will sleep all night in the box (night be the hours of darkness when there is no food to beg for). They don't sleep the way we do... but have lots of cat naps. As soon as dawn arrives, they're awake and begging again.

Hi Eric
I notice that sometimes the chicks stare straight up at the camera, as if they're looking at us. Is there a light source at the camera and does this disturb or confuse them?

When the parents are away I've noticed occasionally a chick pecks at the = beak of another chick. Are they confusing their siblings with a parent?


Hi Lorcan
yes there is a small light inside the box but it doesn't confuse or disturb them... it is no more light than daylight coming into the box. As fot them pecking at the beaks of the other chicks... I do think it's more in hope than anything else. I think they see a beak and the natural thing is to beg. As the young got older, this happened more and more as they begin to look more adult-like.

I've been watching the webcam the past couple of weeks and think it's brill. One thing I noticed is that it appears to be the female has been raising the chicks on her own the past 10 days or so. Am I correct or are both parents still feeding them?


Hi Catherine
Both parents are still feeding them... it can often be hard to tell them apart when they fly in and out so quickly. Often the female will spend longer and will take food from the male and she will feed the chicks... but he is an attentive father and will continue to feed them when they have left the nest.

I read your q and a on bluetits and found it very interesting. I have a nest box in the garden and have had a lot of chicks for the 2nd year running. My question is this: should I clean the box out when they have vacated the nest? I didnt last year but still got birds nesting this year


Hi Gill
It is always a good idea to clean out a box in winter. That way, you can prepare a lovely clean site for the birds when they start looking in early spring. If you clean it immediately after they leave, there might be lots of other dirt which will build up over autumn and winter. So leave it until around Jan. It also can provide a warm roosting place for birds like Wrens in winter.

Having said all that, birds use the same nesthole in trees each summer... there isnn't anyone walking around our woodlands each winter cleaning out nest sites and the birds still use them. So it isn't a major requirement to do it but it saves the birds having to tidy up and may offer a better option for the birds when choosing a nest site...a ready to move in option!

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