NO matter how many times Wee Mac sniffed this strange, almost foot-high nest, it was clear he just couldn’t work out what it was. And no wonder he was confused – because it’s full of clumps of the terrier’s own hair!
The nest is a thing to behold, but it’s only when we know the tragic backstory that we can fully understand and appreciate it.
Autumn is the perfect time to clean out garden nestboxes, and so this week Dúlra got a pair of ladders, donned his gloves and went on his annual rounds.
Most of the boxes were empty, although there were plenty of droppings showing that the birds still use them as a safe place to roost at night.
One nestbox had definitely been used by the smaller blue tits – in June Dúlra had seen the baby birds emerge blinking into the light. So when he opened the lid, he expected to find an old, worn nest inside.But instead there was a perfect, feather-lined cup with six intact but stone-cold eggs resting snugly in the middle.
Dúlra lifted the whole thing out. He can only assume that after the first successful brood, the parents laid a second clutch, which he now had in his hand. But what could have led the parents to abandon their family?
We will never know. But Dúlra’s money would be on the local hawk, which makes a Grim Reaper-like tour of the gardens every day. If a parent blue tit was killed, its partner wouldn’t be able to raise a brood on its own.

With one tragic find, Dúlra was hesitant about looking into the other boxes. But experts recommend that, if possible, boxes are cleaned every year to give birds the best chance of success come spring.
And so he came to the box outside the kitchen which had been occupied  by great tits.
This is not your average nestbox. It was especially designed for starlings, with a bigger entrance and a deep bottom for these birds’ messy nest. But sadly, it’s not so easy to inform the birds about which species it’s designed for.
Last year great tits moved in and reared a brood and Dúlra was able to watch them as he did the dishes. When a family of baby great tits appeared in the garden, Dúlra felt as proud as any father.
But when, this time last year, he went to clean it out, he realised that all was not what it seemed. A single chick – fully fledged with its wonderful yellow and blue coat – lay dead at the bottom of the box. It seemed that the extra depth for the starlings had been too much for the young bird, and it just couldn’t make the leap to the exit hole and freedom. No doubt its parents were willing it to make the jump to freedom, calling like mad from outside the box. But, tragically, it suffered a lonely death.
The parents might have been busy feeding the surviving chicks, but they never forgot the one they lost. And that’s why, this year, they stuffed the big starling box with stacks of material, building up a platform so high that, when the time was right, the chicks could just hop out into the world.
They used all the material they could find. The bulk of it was moss and grass, and at the top they finished it off with balls of multicoloured material that they had picked up from the clothesline and tumble dryer. And of course plenty of clumps of wee Mac’s coat, which his owner had handily left out in the garden for that very purpose after the dog had been clipped.
It’s clear that for great tits, just like us, each child is equally precious. Losing a chick wasn’t acceptable, even if they had half a dozen survivors to care for.. And so when they returned to the same box this spring, they set about trying to rectify the problem.
They built an enormous platform to raise the nest all the way to the hole. God knows how much effort it involved – it was a feat of engineering.
And although you’re meant to clean out the nestbox every year, Dúlra decided that, next year, he’ll give the great tits a headstart. And so he placed the huge nest back in the box. In memory of the one who didn’t survive.
• If you’ve seen or photographed anything interesting, or have any nature questions, you can text Dúlra on 07801 414804.