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.
Turns out I’m a dad. What did I have? Well, octuplets, since you ask.
Yep, every one of the eight blue tit eggs hatched. Not quite all at once. I knew something was up. Apart from the fact she’d been sitting for just over two weeks now, she was getting really fidgety, constantly getting up and messing about with the eggs. Then, in the morning, there were six tiny chicks, and two eggs. The seventh egg hatched late morning. You can’t see it happening unfortunately, because Mum’s in the way, but she sort of helps and munches on the bits of eggshell.
I figured the eighth egg was probably a dud, but it was gone the next morning and only after several reattempts at counting did I confirm that there were eight chicks, all alive. In the film you can see the two parents examining the chicks together for the first time – they look pretty perplexed at what has happened to their lives.
The prognosis isn’t exactly brilliant. All this wind and rain is making finding insect food difficult, but the parents are trying hard. Dad’s been managing to bring in some tiny caterpillars from the ‘Coronation Oak’ nearby, planted to commemorate the coronation of Edward VII in 1901, but Mum’s been forced to stay incubating the chicks as they’ll chill too easily without her. Yesterday during a brief two hours of sunshine they were both out and bringing in food every minute. At least the chicks’ demands for food now are nothing like as voracious as they’ll be in a week or two’s time.
After 48 hours all the chicks seem pretty healthy, all tummy and giant head flolloping about on surprisingly long and limp necks. About half of the volume of their heads is taken up with their closed eyes, which must be full-size from the get-go. Sometimes the chicks are completely moribund for ages and then suddenly perk up. Mum sits on them a lot, I can’t make out what she does with her feet – you’d think they’d get scratched? If you turn the volume up towards the end you can just hear the chicks chirping, which they do without opening their mouths, the buzzing sound is electronic interference from the camera – the birds don’t hear it, it’s not a real-life noise.
It’s kind of weird watching the parents flying around the garden, and then watching them inside the box on the camera monitor – its difficult to match up the images with the reality.