July 25th   Leave a comment

Corn bunting nest 1 in territory 73 just outside of Crail

Although it’s the end of July, the corn buntings are still right in the middle of their breeding season. I had several new nests started last week because the first nests had failed, and even two building their first nest in a territory last Friday. All the brand new nests are in potato fields. I am getting the impression that corn buntings like starting to nest in green crops or vegetation. This makes sense – the plants will still be growing to provide increasing cover for the nest – and are unlikely to be harvested (or burnt in their ancestral habitat) before the chicks fledge. Nests that are failing in mature crops at the moment – winter wheat or barley – seem to have about an even chance for the territory to be completely deserted a few days later. These birds are probably the ones that are then accumulating in the potato field: being sure about this is one of the reasons that I need to colour-ring the population, so I can follow individuals as they maintain or shift territories. Anyway, these new nesting birds in the potato fields need to come from somewhere. I now have the two big potato fields closest to Crail, each with at least 4 nests in them. At the end of June there was barely a corn bunting singing in a potato field.

I checked one of these nests early this morning. I have watched the male in territory 73 singing from alongside the airfield road since April. Corn bunting males are pretty focused singers, but this one has spent hundreds of hours singing over three months. He was finally rewarded by a female that I saw building a nest on the second of July. The nest took about five days to build. Looking closely at it today I could see it was a big structure. The potato plants provide cover above the nest but little else. Everything structural in the nest needs to be brought in and woven by the female. Nests in grass or spring barley have the stems to provide much of the support. It looked like there were three chicks in the nest today, but because the eggs hatched on the 23rd, I suspect there were 4 eggs, given the usual incubation time of 12-13 days. The pace of development of the chicks is really fast so they will fledge on about day 10 – 12, so on the 2nd or 3rd of August. Weather and predators permitting. The nest is quite exposed with barely any cover above as the potato plants around it have flopped a bit. Rain is forecast this week…

There is a second nest in territory 73. Corn buntings are frequently polygynous – one male, and several females. The male often doesn’t do anything except sing and chase the females, so it makes little difference to the females if there is another close by. I saw the second female building on the 19th, about 150 meters from the first nest. It might just be in the next territory – but this male (territory 2) also has another female nesting in his territory that started building a couple of days earlier. These nests won’t fledge chicks until about the 20th of August! Late indeed. And heading dangerously towards potato harvest time.

The nest in closeup. I think I can count three chicks here (I just take a photo at a distance and count later to minimise disturbance) – about 48 hours since hatching

Posted July 25, 2021 by wildcrail in Sightings

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