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Miranda Hodgson

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Mystery of an abandoned nest with eggs in it

Posted by Miranda Hodgson on 04 Dec 2013 at 11:21 AM

The other day I was shown an abandoned greattit (Parus major) nest with eggs in it. The person who showed me the nest cleans out the nest boxes in November (the law states that nesting boxes may be cleaned between 1 August and 31 January and must otherwise be left alone). This nest was clearly long-abandoned, the eggs cold and brittle – the egg I took out to measure cracked when I picked it up.


As we looked at the nest, we talked about what might have happened to cause it to be abandoned. Greattits lay up to 18 eggs and, since this one only contained five and it is the female alone who incubates the eggs, it seems likely that something happened to her. The people who tend that garden care deeply about wildlife – enough to make the nesting boxes themselves - and wouldn’t dream of disturbing an active nest, so that obviously wasn’t it.





The garden where the nest was found is in a rural area and some distance from other houses, so it seemed unlikely that a cat would have killed the female. A feral cat had been seen there a few years ago, but there have been no further sightings of cats in the area, feral or not. Was the greattit ill? We guessed that an unwell bird would be less likely to be laying eggs in the first place and discounted that idea.




Stoats (Mustela erminea) will take small mammals, eggs and sometimes birds. They are stealthy animals and not much seen, but are actually quite common. The land around the garden is used for farming and the garden itself is home to mice and, unfortunately for the gardeners there, rabbits. That sounds like prime stoat country, so it could be that a stoat killed the bird.

My own guess for what might have happened is that either a woodpecker poked its head in through the entrance hole and frightened the bluetit away, or a bird of prey caught her while she was out and about. Sparrowhawks are a fairly common sight in this area, as are kestrels and, increasingly, red kites.

Whatever caused that nest to be abandoned, it’s clear that there is no shortage of small songbirds in that area as the garden is always full of birds flitting about. With luck, that nesting box may be home to a new family of tits this coming spring.


Information on the law on nesting boxes


Edit: Someone mentioned that the name 'greattit' should have a gap between the two words, but this system uses a 'profanity filter' for the removal of vulgar language, which means that the second word comes out as *** and that's why Ive written it as one word.


Phot's-Moll said:

What a shame the eggs didn't get to hatch.

I wouldn't have tried cleaning a nest box in spring or summer but hadn't realised it was illegal to do so.

on 04 Dec 2013 at 03:23 PM


Miranda.  Once again.  Such a wonderful post.  I have to agree with Phot's here.  Mike is now seventy four, well, I will be come the 28th.  Through out my childhhod years and more importantly my latter years. I have become a horticulturist and natualist.  In all honesty.  The law relating to cleaning nest boxes.  Mike is so shocked.  Regarding the sad loss, that this clutch of eggs failed to incubate and develop.  Sadly these things do happen.  Amongst the titmus family.  These tiny birds delight us all. So like the humble sparrow, theyv literally breed like mice.  At the end of the day, as with so many species of wild life.  The multi producers, always end up being the specie with the greatest losses.

Sad but true.

Amanda.  I like the new avitar.


on 05 Dec 2013 at 12:10 AM

Miranda Hodgson said:

A lot of people are surprised at the law on nesting boxes, but it does make a lot of sense. It seems that humans sometimes just don't know when to leave things alone.

Mike, thanks, it took many photographs to get one of me with my eyes open *and* not looking like a complete idiot.

on 05 Dec 2013 at 02:46 PM


A complete idiot.  Never. Dare such an oldie comment.  Your previous avita made you look so youndg and childlike.  Now the new picture, shows you to be grown up,, mature and very wise.  Mike is an oldie.  I am not only a horticulturist but als a naturalist.  Hence that is why I enjoy your blogs so much.

Kindes regards.

on 06 Dec 2013 at 12:43 AM

Snark said:

Perhaps she did lay 18 and the rest hatched. Infertility happens!

on 13 Dec 2013 at 09:05 PM

Miranda Hodgson said:

I don't think so, Snark, as most birds will remove infertile eggs from the nest.

on 27 Dec 2013 at 03:00 PM