Saturday, May 23, 2015

First Titmouse Chick

This is a continuation of our monitoring of the Black-crested Titmouse pair in our nest box.

May 23 - Its hatching day and Memorial day weekend, perfect timing! Based on the time of the last egg, we had expected hatching to occur sometime over the last two days. The first egg hatched this morning at 09:00. The full hatching only took a couple of minutes.

In this first frame, the egg is just cracked at the top and the chick is pushing out. The mother participated in the hatching by poking and prodding at the egg.

As the chick wiggled a bit, the mother pull the egg shell halves out from under it and ate them both. Readings indicate that she might be re-absorbing calcium or just taking out the trash. That complete, she settled back on top of the nest and brooded some more.

At 10:00, we got another glimpse of the chick, this time begging for food.

At 10:10, the female left the nest and I took the opportunity to slip an iPhone through the ventilation slot to grab a picture without opening the nest box. The snake skin can be seen on the far left edge of the frame. I think that it is a piece of plastic trash that is lying on top of the chick. The female repeatedly tries to get the debris off of the chick but never moves it far enough. This color photo is the first time we have seen the speckles on the eggs; they do not show up in infrared at all.

Below is a link to a short video of the hatching sequence. In it, the female move out of the nest cup when the egg cracks. She then picks at the egg shell, eventually removing and eating each half in turn. At the end of the sequence, she feeds the chick some sort of scrap she picks up out of the nest.

The second chick hatched at 13:25 while the mother was away. Over the course of the afternoon, the first chick received all of the bits of food that the mother brought back to the nest.

There have been two other titmice frequenting the yard and the feeders. One dark crested and one that looks like another hybrid. Our female does not ever go to the feeder but regularly leaves the nest box and heads back away from the house towards the river. I assume that feeder food is not appropriate for the nestlings that probably need a diet of caterpillars. We have seen no evidence of any male helping out with the feeding. From our readings, I had thought that the male would help feed her.

May 24 - Two more chicks hatched overnight, one at 02:04 and one at 07:45 based on when I could see the mother eating egg shells. The video also captured her removing fecal sacs by eating then. She seems to have some trouble gauging the size of food that the chicks are capable of swallowing. On one round, she repeatedly stuffed a piece into one mouth after another, removing it when the chick could not swallow. She finally ate it herself. Here is another quick iPhone-through-the-vent shot at 09:45, an hour and a half before the last egg, isible in the photo hatched.

Mid-morning, something must have spooked the mother just after she came back into the nest. She guarded the entrance with a "snake-hissing" display as captured in this short video clip. Unfortunately, I had moved our outside camera to observe the raccoons that were tearing down feeders so I did not get video of what she was hissing at. Note the chick which was just fed expelling a fecal sac just before the mother begins her display. This is the white bit she picks up when she settles back down.

I grabbed some shots of the female leaving the nest box. These shows the coloration on the light chestnut forehead and pale gray crest which I am still assuming marks this as a Black-crested x Tufted hybrid.

The final chick hatched at 11:12 this morning. It took just over 24 hours for all of the eggs to hatch which is pretty close to the expected range. Here is a rare moment when all five mouths are open at the same time.

This is another iPhone image taken of all five chicks. I find it interesting that the only feathers that they hatched with is the tufts coming out of their crown. It is amazing that in a few weeks, these things will be able to fly.

Here is a very brief video snippet of the five

After the snake-hissing behavior earlier today, we decided up the ante on our house-sparrow deterrents. We put together a "sparrow spooker" to further discourage house sparrows from approaching the nest. On her first return to the nestbox after we installed the spooker, the titmouse did not even notice it and went straight into the box. However, on her second return, she did see it and was, herself, spooked. She made five attempts hovering in front of the box and escaping back to the nearby tree before finally taking the plunge into the hole. This had me concerned, so I kept watching the box. On a later arrival, I saw her once again enter without hesitation. Hopefully, she will adjust to the new decor quickly.

May 25 - This morning I took a slightly longer color video of the nestling with the iPhone. 

This afternoon, we had heavy storms and numerous tornado warnings throughout the Austin area including one that bore down directly on our location in Georgetown. During the worst of the downpour, the female did not stay in the nest box. This surprised me. Is it a coincidence or did she find better shelter somewhere else?

The female made many repeated trips in an out of the nest box with no problem. I think the spooker is no longer a concern for her. Typical  feeding schedule today has been: brood on the nest for 10-15 minutes, leave to forage for 2-5 minutes, return and take 20-30 seconds at most to feed one chick and eat any fecal sac, repeat. She has been taking less time to find food today than previously.

Story continues with chick development.

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