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Old Wednesday 30th May 2012, 12:16   #1
jgw
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Wing Fluttering

I've been enjoying watching the blue tit parents continuously binging food to the chicks in nest box I made for them; this is the second season the box has been used.

The feeding is relentless and I've been fascinated to notice that when both parents arrive with food at the same time, they definitely communicate to one another by a sort of 'wing fluttering' system! Has anyone else notices this? Maybe it's to tell one another who to go in first with the food. If one parent arrives before the other and goes in to the box, and then the other arrives and subsequently goes in, the first parent always leaves immediately. Probably there's not much room in there for all the family? The chicks must be quite large by now and I'm sure they will be soon to fledge, which I'm hoping to see this year as I missed it last time.

So, anyone else ever noticed this 'wing fluttering' communication? Both birds are stationery when they do this, and usually perched on the fence or a bush near the box.

Also, as I don't have a camera in the box, I was wondering where would the parents spend the night? Would they stay in the box with the family?
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Old Wednesday 30th May 2012, 18:40   #2
Larry Lade
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Here in the states I have only noticed that it is the fledgling who does the wing fluttering. I assume that is a way in which they beg/request food.
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Old Wednesday 30th May 2012, 19:07   #3
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Interesting post as we have blue tits busy feeding too! I have certainly noticed that they take turns usually and very rare for those babies to be alone for a split second!! The parents know where the feeders are (not too close to nest box) and stop to feed often as they fly in search of caterpillars or whatever for their young. We also have fresh water every day in the bird bath.
Think I may have noticed wing fluttering a week or so ago but not now? Maybe they have now perfected their timing?!
I'd love to know where they sleep too...how do the babies last all night without food when they need so much during the day?
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Old Friday 1st June 2012, 10:34   #4
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Larry, I've seen this 'wing fluttering' you mean when parents are still feeding their offspring after they've left the nest, but this is different. I tried to get some film of it today, but I didn't see the two parent birds together at any time.

The chicks are quite large now and make a continuous racket. It's amazing how their sound has become much stronger these last few days. They now jump up and down by the 'window', so I'm expecting them to fledge any day now;.one seemed to almost jump out last night! The parent birds have been really attentive and have fed them continuously for what seems like almost two weeks. I was worried when I read somewhere that people frequently find the chicks have died with the parents having abandoned them, probably because of lack of food being found. Thankfully the chicks have been regularly fed with at times seem to be huge caterpillars, so luckily, there's plenty to be found around here in this rural area. Maybe a few less butterflies will be seen though!

I've shot some digital film of the feeding with the chicks at the 'window' and I'm wondering where to post it if anyone's interested. They're about 2 gigs each though.
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Old Friday 1st June 2012, 12:20   #5
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If you can resize it for the forum requirements (see the attachments link in "advanced reply") that would be great!
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Old Friday 1st June 2012, 16:05   #6
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The feeding is relentless and I've been fascinated to notice that when both parents arrive with food at the same time, they definitely communicate to one another by a sort of 'wing fluttering' system! Has anyone else notices this? Maybe it's to tell one another who to go in first with the food. If one parent arrives before the other and goes in to the box, and then the other arrives and subsequently goes in, the first parent always leaves immediately. Probably there's not much room in there for all the family? The chicks must be quite large by now and I'm sure they will be soon to fledge, which I'm hoping to see this year as I missed it last time.
Wing fluttering a one of my favourite pieces of behaviour. I don't think it communicates anything much more than non-aggression/non-dominance in the simplest form of the explanation. Young birds use the signal to beg for food but it is often used by the female during courtship. Females will often beg for the food a male has brought to woo her with but they also crouch and wing-flutter to show they are receptive when they are ready to mate. A pair of birds approaching a nest would be telling the other that it was not being aggressive in the simplest and quickest way possible without having to go through the more complex recognition signals associated with pair-bonding. The bird that showed the lowest level of dominance would probably be the bird that took the food in second, BTW.
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Old Friday 1st June 2012, 16:35   #7
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I'm not convinced by the dominance theory, as when birds show dominance/submissiveness in other situations (e.g. at a feeder) it is totally different behaviour (bill open, crouching etc)

Also, adult birds will flutter wings at the nest like this even when they are alone, but when you are the thing stopping them going in. So I think it's unlikely they are displaying submissiveness to us. I think it's more of an 'anxiety' behaviour, or perhaps even a distraction display, when they want to get into the nest but are prevented.

The other thing that doesn't convince me is that when females flutter their wings at males early in the season, like juveniles, they are not 'begging' but actually 'demanding'. It is well beyond the courtship and pairing phase and is more to do with the energy of egg laying and incubation, so wooing, mating and fertilisation has already happened when the 'begging/demanding' starts.
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Old Friday 1st June 2012, 20:32   #8
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Originally Posted by AlfArbuthnot View Post
I'm not convinced by the dominance theory, as when birds show dominance/submissiveness in other situations (e.g. at a feeder) it is totally different behaviour (bill open, crouching etc)

Also, adult birds will flutter wings at the nest like this even when they are alone, but when you are the thing stopping them going in. So I think it's unlikely they are displaying submissiveness to us. I think it's more of an 'anxiety' behaviour, or perhaps even a distraction display, when they want to get into the nest but are prevented.

The other thing that doesn't convince me is that when females flutter their wings at males early in the season, like juveniles, they are not 'begging' but actually 'demanding'. It is well beyond the courtship and pairing phase and is more to do with the energy of egg laying and incubation, so wooing, mating and fertilisation has already happened when the 'begging/demanding' starts.
Fair enough but I watched two copulating house sparrows just last week and the female was wing fluttering whilst taking up the the receptive position. The trouble with the receptive position is that it can signal subservience too and can trigger an attack in some species. I have also been watching the sparrows outside my window and the recently fledged young are crouching with beak open at the same time as the wing flutter. Perhaps I over-simplified the explanation but I still think it is to do with dominance rather than anxiety albeit that I am not sure what it meant when a blue tit seemingly signalled to you. Incidentally, a beak open pose often means aggression even when delivered in the crouch at a feeder and does not always involve wing fluttering from what I have seen. Nevertheless an intersting topic and one that everyone can look out for and describe the examples they see.
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Old Friday 1st June 2012, 23:46   #9
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Fair enough but I watched two copulating house sparrows just last week and the female was wing fluttering whilst taking up the the receptive position. The trouble with the receptive position is that it can signal subservience too and can trigger an attack in some species. I have also been watching the sparrows outside my window and the recently fledged young are crouching with beak open at the same time as the wing flutter. Perhaps I over-simplified the explanation but I still think it is to do with dominance rather than anxiety albeit that I am not sure what it meant when a blue tit seemingly signalled to you. Incidentally, a beak open pose often means aggression even when delivered in the crouch at a feeder and does not always involve wing fluttering from what I have seen. Nevertheless an intersting topic and one that everyone can look out for and describe the examples they see.
My observations of mating House Sparrow seems to differ somewhat from what you describe. I see a pair of sparrow come flying into the yard. The male flies a short distance from the female and crouches with wings fluttering. The female comes to the male bird but he flies away a short distance again. This scenario is repeated several times and finally the male bird mounts the female bird and the copulation is complete. I thought that this was quite strange, as most of the birds I observe around here is the when the male pursues the female bird (and not the other way around)!
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Old Saturday 2nd June 2012, 01:08   #10
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Well, thanks Nightranger and AlfArbuthnot for your information. It seems to me that wing fluttering represents many different communication signals for birds with subtle differences that they are able to interpret and perhaps we can't notice. Such differences that we don't detect may even differ from species to species. It's certainly very interesting anyway.

Today several chicks fledged! It's been an interesting day observing all activities. Three chicks have been mooching around my back garden for most of the day. They seem very vulnerable, and appear to have no sense of danger as yet. They have their distinctive call to their mother (I'm assuming it's the mother that's still feeding them as there does seem to be just one adult tending their needs now) for food as they scatter about. She mainly goes to the nest box with food, where there are other chicks yet to leave; she sometimes goes to the fledgelings if she can find of hear them too.

Another interesting behaviour I noticed was this: when the mother now goes to the 'window' to feed them, she seems to entice the chicks to stretch outwards a little by moving away from them when they try to take the food. Almost as though she is trying to get them to come out into the world. The third chick did try to get the food by stretching halfway out, and then the adult flew away and the chick tumbled out. It was hanging on at the opening trying to clamber back in but didn't seem to have the strength, and so fell down into the bushes below. It does seem a little smaller than the other two that fledged earlier, and does tend to stray far from the nest box; as in fact they all do at times.

A few questions please: Do they start to find a little of their own food once they've fledged or are they still totally dependent on being fed? How long will it be before they can fly a little more effectively, to help with their safety? And what is the survival percentage of a brood of blue tits?

Gretchen, I'll have a go at uploading a small film sometime. Over the next few days I have a lot of work to do, so I'll miss a lot of what goes on for the next few days which is unfortunate, but I'm enclosing a few stills that show what's been going on for the time being!

Romafree, I hope you have as interesting a time observing proceedings as I have done!

!st. shot: Feeding at the window.
2nd. shot: Chick looking out and waiting for food.
3rd. shot: Fledging!
4th. shot: Next chick at window, mother on left.
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Old Saturday 2nd June 2012, 01:22   #11
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My observations of mating House Sparrow seems to differ somewhat from what you describe. I see a pair of sparrow come flying into the yard. The male flies a short distance from the female and crouches with wings fluttering. The female male comes to the male bird but he flies away a short distance again. This scenario is repeated several times and finally the male bird mounts the female bird and the copulation is complete. I thought that this was quite strange, as most of the birds I observe around here is the when the male pursues the female bird (and not the other way around)!
Beautiful observations Larry and I am stagggered to report that my observations recently were almost the opposite of this (are North American sparrows developing a different mating strategy? It would not surprise me although I cannot imagine what the driving force would be even though I am aware they are introduced). In the case I saw, the female was clearly inviting copulation and crouched but went into the wing fluttering display. The male recognised the crouched posture and showed arousal (if you know what I mean) and he mounted her several times. I know male house sparrows have a rank within a community/colony and I wonder if the differences in our observations reflect the relative standing of the male and female we observed. This makes sense both because unmated females may solicit the attention of dominant males whereas relatively junior males will try to entice females away form the attention of the superior males in the colony. Isn't it amazing that a familiar (and pest bird outside of Europe) can produce questions that we would never imagine if we did not take time out to lok?
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Old Saturday 2nd June 2012, 01:35   #12
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A few questions please: Do they start to find a little of their own food once they've fledged or are they still totally dependent on being fed? How long will it be before they can fly a little more effectively, to help with their safety? And what is the survival percentage of a brood of blue tits?
A fantastic question! Once fledged, most birds are still dependent on their parents for a varying amount of time to a lesser or greater extent. This varies from no parental input in ducklings where the young experimentally peck at potential food (the female leads the young away from danger and towards food but in some species she does not physically protect the brood) until they work out what is OK, to birds of prey where the young are dependent on parents until they learn to hunt for themselves (sadly, some young BoPs never learn to hunt and starve to death after a certain cut-off point when the parental bond breaks). Even in blue tits there seems to be some experimental pecking at potential food but the most amazing example is to see a young blackbird watching its parent foraging in a garden margin before presenting the food to the youngster. I am sure blue tits follow their parents around and learn by a similar process but we do not see it very often because it occurs well away from the nest.
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Old Monday 4th June 2012, 01:56   #13
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After the chicks had fledged they stayed around the garden and in the bushes below the box. Their second morning I found them together in one of the bushes below the box and the mother was feeding them regularly. They'd become much more able with their movements and were flying a metre or two by now and getting upwards onto the lower branches of the trees behind the box. Some had also gone over my garden fence where there is a large open expanse of mown grass (village school field, though empty for the weekend) as I could hear their chirping. There are bushes and trees around the perimeter of this field. I left them to it for perhaps half an hour or so around this time.

When I returned the parent bird was obviously looking for the chicks by continuously returning to my garden and chirping, going from bush to bush below the box and hovering where the chicks had been at different times previously, but the chicks were nowhere to be seen or heard. This happened several time throughout the day until dusk. The parent bird seemed quite distressed and was coming back time after time with food but the chicks were nowhere.

Does this sort of thing usually or often happen? The chicks were becoming increasingly mobile by the second day and seemed to have left my garden of their own accord during trying to fly little by little. They'd got onto a high fence and then onto the lower branches of trees behind, and then I don't know what happened to them after that. The mother certainly couldn't find them and tried all day long, chirping and flying from bush to bush bringing food to where she had been feeding them before. She even looked into the nesting box! It was really quite sad. But I don't understand how she would have lost them all during such a short period of time. She must have been feeding them before returning to find them gone. Surely she would have found her chicks if they'd been around somewhere? It seemed slightly odd and a sad ending. Could they possibly have strayed too far for her to find them during feeding sessions? Yes, there are predatory birds around here, and I suppose the occasional cat is possible. Just an example of 'nature red in tooth and claw'? Or maybe they're out there somewhere, or she found them outside my garden in the end. I hope so.
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Old Monday 4th June 2012, 16:57   #14
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Just an example of 'nature red in tooth and claw'? Or maybe they're out there somewhere, or she found them outside my garden in the end. I hope so.
There is no reason to think the whole brood was taken in such a short space of time but they could be sitting tight somewhere if a predator has appeared. I have heard of other examples where the parent becomes confused and returns to the vicinity of the nest almost as though they have forgotten. In fact, mosty youngsters disperse around the local area after leaving the nest and they may not all be in the same place after 24 hours.
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Old Monday 4th June 2012, 18:00   #15
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There is no reason to think the whole brood was taken in such a short space of time but they could be sitting tight somewhere if a predator has appeared. I have heard of other examples where the parent becomes confused and returns to the vicinity of the nest almost as though they have forgotten. In fact, mosty youngsters disperse around the local area after leaving the nest and they may not all be in the same place after 24 hours.
Thanks Ian, that's helpful to hear. Would the parent find them again within a certain circumference and feed them, or perhaps they're feeding a little themselves by now?

Jeffrey.
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Old Monday 4th June 2012, 21:02   #16
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Thanks Ian, that's helpful to hear. Would the parent find them again within a certain circumference and feed them, or perhaps they're feeding a little themselves by now?

Jeffrey.
It is probably too early for the youngsters to be totally independent yet but they will be learning. The parents can find them but do not be surprised if the parents disappear too because blue tits tend to move away from the nest, especially if there is a rich source of caterpillars nearby. Woodlands are favourite places because there is food, relative warmth, shelter and abundant cover from predators although it is inevitable that a few are picked off in the coming weeks.
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Old Tuesday 5th June 2012, 16:06   #17
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jgw.....I do hope that your little feathery family is safe. I loved the photos, thank you! Ours should fledge anytime now and I am getting increasingly nervous....will report in if I actually observe anything...
I am concerned that we do not have lawn but chippings....I do so hope that the fledglings do not injure themselves as they leave the birdbox, we have no bushes either (this I intend to correct by next Spring!)
It gets worse, we have a high wooden fence with no gaps. Those babies will not get out until they can fly, anything I can do?
This is our 1st blue tit family since we moved here and we feel so honoured.
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Old Wednesday 6th June 2012, 12:52   #18
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Hi Romafree,

It's really very interesting, (and yes very special) observing what happens over the weeks, and naturally, you get attached to your 'very own' little blue tit family that moves into a little house you put there and then raises their little family! But really you have to stay realistic and let happen whet happens, as nature determines.

I found the day they fledge to be when the chicks are at their most vulnerable, and probably meant to be in the world as food for predators just as much as future adult blue tits at this stage! I food them jumping about the lawn and flapping onto a decking area about 25 feet away from the nest box in 'open tundra' completely vulnerable. A few times I actually picked a few chicks up and places them back on the bushes below the nest box. The parent bird fed them there when it returned. One was still on the branches and the other had fallen down onto the shrubs but at least it was safer there from magpies etc.

I hope you have an interesting time observing as I did; and hopefully with an apparently satisfying conclusion!

Here's a few photos of the chicks from day one. I look forward to any posts of your experiences with your own blue tit family!
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Old Tuesday 12th June 2012, 18:25   #19
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Well, a couple of days ago I could hear the familiar three-note chirping of a blue tit chick! It was pouring with rain, but there was certainly a chick being fed by a parent in a tree at the bottom of the garden. Today they were both on my bird table, with the chick pecking about and with the 'wing fluttering' again, but this time the distinctive begging mode. I've only seen the one chick but still pleased. Also, it seems that both parents are feeding it!

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Old Tuesday 12th June 2012, 19:11   #20
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How lovely that you have one of the chicks at the bird table.....ours fledged today (we went out for the day and missed the event)...they are clearly not there though and it was high time they left home!! Just hope they are safe and warm somewhere.....would just love to have them visit our bird table too!!
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