Tale of a blue tit nest box

Member Helen Lidgett tells us all about her resident blue tit family that she has been spending time with over lockdown.

Derbyshire Wildlife Trust organised a few sessions for over-65s back in the winter - which now seems a lifetime away!  I went to the bird box building session on 30th January and constructed a blue tit box with a bit of help.  At home I took down the old box, its roof rotted by rain over many years, and on 2nd February nailed the new box in its place on the garage wall facing the back of our house. Within days it was being investigated and not long afterwards we saw the little birds with their distinctive dipping flight bringing bits of grass and moss to build a nest.

Blue tit box

(C) Helen Lidgett

Then coronavirus hit.  As we are both well over 70 and my husband is shielded, we confined ourselves to our house and garden even before the official lockdown.  Day after day we were able to watch the blue tits coming and going, and listen to them calling to each other. Putting out washing one day, I watched as a bird perched on the edge of the hole and desperately tried to get a long strand of moss inside, dropped it, flew off and was back within minutes with a more compact piece, with which it successfully negotiated the entrance.

Quite often they raided our bird feeder, a short flight away across the garden, fighting off sparrows who dared to come at the same time.  In April it was clear one bird was sitting on the nest and the other was bringing food. 

Blue tit, Amy Lewis

Blue tit, Amy Lewis

Then in late April both birds were busy flying to and fro in the hot sunshine, gathering food from nearby trees and racing back to the nest.  They perched on the nearest tree branch, burbling in their chests attempting to warn off our cat when she settled in the long grass under the box, which became her favourite sleeping place on hot afternoons.  There was no way she could catch them, but of course they did not know that. 

In early May there was a gap, had all the fledglings left?  Was our entertainment ended for the year?  But no, the parents were still around and a week or so later there was a renewed frenzy of feeding for over two weeks.  The cat still sat under the box and was sworn at in blue tit burbles. Occasionally I persuaded her to move so the bird could deliver a fat juicy caterpillar or winged aphid to the unseen gaping mouths inside.  My husband sat in our conservatory overlooking the garden and wondered at their industry.  He noticed that occasionally a parent perched on the bird box roof and attempted to negotiate the entrance hole from above, presumably to confuse the cat.  He also noticed the two parents emerge close together, perch on the tree branch briefly and go in different directions to raid the neighbours' trees for insects. 

Suddenly on Friday 29th May there was no activity, the cat deserted her look out post and all was quiet.  In the long early morning before we were awake, the fledglings had left and, we think, flown across the fields to the woods around Tibshelf Ponds for the summer.  We expect them to be back in January.

You could not have known way back in 2019 when you secured funding for the Wildlife sessions for over-65s just how important that initiative would be.  My box brought us real joy during the lockdown and assuming we survive to enjoy future springs, will continue to do so.  We will stock up the bird feeder and start to watch out for the blue tits again come mid-winter.