07 June 2016

Two broods are better than one

Hazel Evans, NRS secretary writes:

Studies in Europe demonstrate that Great Tits have the potential to produce two broods per season; a recent study of populations in The Netherlands showed that over 50% of birds were double-brooded in the 1960s, though this number has been declining as the climate warms. Despite this observation, records of double-brooded Great Tits are still relatively scarce in the UK – is this because it is truly a rare behaviour or because we’re so used to thinking of them as single-brooded that we don’t often check our boxes after the first chicks have left?

Robin and Moya Myerscough from Norfolk have been keeping a very detailed log of the comings and goings at their garden in nest box during 2016. A female Great Tit began laying on 6th April and completed a clutch of nine, which hatched on the 27th. Unfortunately two chicks died but the remaining seven fledged successfully at 08.15 on 17th May.

Female Great Tit collecting nesting material. Photo taken by Jill Packenham

These observations constitute a great record for the BTO’s Nest Record Scheme but nothing seemed particularly out of the ordinary. However, by 2 pm an adult was bringing in fresh nesting material and it laid the first egg of a second clutch the very next day.  This in itself is unusual, but a gap of less than 24 hours between attempts seems amazing. Great Tit fledglings are heavily dependent on their parents for about a week after leaving the nest but it is possible the female was able to juggle these responsibilities with laying of the second clutch, given incubation does not commence until the penultimate egg is laid.

Great Tit removing a fecal sac. Photo taken by David Waistell

In truth, while it seems rapid, we don’t really know just how this observation compares to the typical interval between broods, but the widespread use of nest box cameras has the potential to significantly increase the amount of information we are able to collect. Whether you own a camera or not, it’s worth keeping a close eye on your nest boxes over the next couple of weeks to check for second broods – remember to submit records of any attempts you find  to  the Nest Record Scheme or Nest Box Challenge.


  1. Peter Wilkinson25 July 2016 at 20:30

    Have to say I'd be surprised if it's the same pair. Had a case a few years ago where Kestrels were ousted from a box by Jackdaws. The Jacks raised a single chick. 40 minutes (we know this as there is a camera in the box) after the Jackdaw chick fledged, the Kestrels were back in the box and went on to raise two young.