During the lull between storms this week, some of my garden birds were getting into the Valentine's Day spirit. Birdsong filled the air, but for one of my pairs of Blue Tits, house hunting was definitely top of the agenda.
It starts with a bit of hole inspection.
Interestingly, this is typically initiated by the male, and indeed this picture is a male Blue Tit. Telling one sex from the other is a subtle business, but when you have a pair together, it can be quite easy, especially before they've been through the rigours of the breeding season. In the male, the blues, greens and yellows tend to be a shade richer, and in particular the blue on top of the crown is more intense and the blue collar is thicker and darker.
Here he is to show you the features more clearly:
Look how wide and intense that collar is. And here, below, is his female to whom he was pointing out their future front door. The difference in their collars is especially noticeable.
What you'll also see in the first photograph is that the male is not only looking in the hole, but he is hunched up with his wings half spread. "What a plush new apartment I have found for you, my dear," he is saying.
In fact, he confirms it by having a good look inside. "Wow! You've just got to come and have a look in here!"
Duly convinced, it's time for her to come and have a look. After all, she will have to do all the nest building, egg laying and incubation in due course (although rest assured he will do his fair share when it comes to feeding their brood.)
Hoorah! It seems she approves:
So this is where we'll leave our happy pair, for now. They've got some severe storms to cope with this weekend, and we could still get a proper blast of winter, so I don't really expect nestbuilding to start in earnest until maybe the tail end of March. But at least they look like they've got themselves sorted with accommodation for the season to come.
It's not too late to put up a birdbox if you have prospecting newly-weds in your garden or local greenspace. Check out the full range of des-res accommodation here in the RSPB shop. Now is the moment to put up your own range of dream homes while love is in the air.
It is very interesting to watch tits check out a nest box. I'm sure they sniff it first, and then the quick head-poke and withdraw. But then they don't know whether there might be a weasel or any other predator in there, so it pays to advance cautiously into a dark unknown space!
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