Neil Fletcher takes a regular look at the everyday wildlife at Woods Mill, headquarters of the Sussex Wildlife Trust, and at his home in nearby Henfield.
The chicks are seven days old. We have lost two, so are now down to six, and to be honest, if six were to make it as far as fledging, that would be remarkable. The late-hatching chick, 24 hours behind its siblings, wasn’t able to overcome its disadvantage and compete with its one-day-older brothers and sisters. The other failed to jockey for position enough times when the food came round, and so became weaker – it’s a downward spiral.
Mum removes the bodies quickly, indeed she’s almost OCD in her attentiveness towards cleanliness, frequently diving down to the pit of the nest to search for unwanted foreign objects, to the annoyance of her charges. She also encourages them to upend, and produce a neat, white faecal sac, which thankfully she has taken to removing outside for disposal rather than simply swallowing. Now, I’ve noticed that she pokes sleepy chicks to encourage them to consider accepting some food, and seems to be deliberately ensuring that food is distributed evenly among the six, though sometimes a chick will find that it’s head is being sat on by another, which under any circumstances is going to make mealtimes problematic. Those unencumbered by this vexation open the gape of their beaks impossibly wide like demented handbags, the sort with a metal hinge and clip in the middle. The consequence overall however is that the six seem to be, for the moment at least, all doing equally well.
The next morning I had a quick check before posting the blog and suddenly we’re down to four chicks! One had been removed, and another lies dead in the nest. What tips them over the edge so quickly?