I moved one of our nest-boxes back in February and placed it behind our apple tree. In early spring it looked conspicuous and I wondered whether the tits would take to it. Even at the beginning of May the box stuck out like a sore thumb. However a pair did take to it and interestingly, in preference to the box on the ash tree that has seen tits in it ever since I placed it there some years ago – this year it remained empty. May is the month of phenomenal vegetative growth where plants, vegetables and trees fill out every day. Early leaflets and apple blossom began to obscure the box as the birds sat on the eggs and by no, at the end of the month, when the adult birds are engaged in a non-stop feeding marathon from dawn until dusk, the box is completely secluded.
Over the last few days, passing when the adult birds returned to feed their box bound young prompted shrill alarm calls until we stepped away, the peeping of the young inside returning to chorus when the parent entered the box.
I had a feeling that today was the day for leaving. I’d seen no sign of the youngsters appearing at the box hole over the last few days, but felt sure that a stake-out would be worth the trouble. I set up the hide in the late morning and once inside the adults soon returned to their regular food delivery runs.
After a few minutes a youngster appeared at the hole and poked its head out into the big wide world.
The next load of grubs from the adults were enough of an energy boost for the bird to return to the hole and make an exit a few minutes later and the first of the fledglings left the nest. I now adopted the state of a waiting an expectant father, concerned perhaps that this was an early nest leaver and that the others weren’t ready. After a few minutes anxiety subsided as another climbed to the box exit. This one made no trial runs, instead pushed so far forward that its wings ended up on the outside and the young bird had no choice but to fall forward and fly a few short flaps to one of the surrounding branches.
The day marched on and I had to pick up my daughter from scout camp. Returning to the hide I wondered if the birds were all gone, but the last couple were still to leave. I considered this to be a tricky time for the parents and a highly risky one for the young. Leaving the safety of the box the birds were now exposed to the dangers of the outside and likely spread now over several locations, still entirely dependent on their parents for food. Yet the parents were still drawing the last of the fledglings from the nest and from their perspective, the sooner the better. As I watched I could see, occasionally and with difficulty, that several of the young tits were still in the apple tree, sitting still as statues until an adult came to feed them. Their yellow and moss grey plummage made perfect sense now as they were virtually invisible in the leaf and branch shadows of the tree.