Every bird has its moment
The beautiful dawn chorus is a tightly orchestrated melody with each species of bird given its own moment in the spotlight. Robins and dunnocks open the show, singing about an hour before sunrise, before the blackbirds and song thrushes take over. Finally as the song builds to crescendo, the wrens, tits and warblers join in along with the tiny call of the goldcrest.
It’s mainly male birds who sing the chorus
The chorus is largely sung by male birds to capture the attention of the opposite sex. And the louder they sing, the more girls they attract. Singing takes a lot of energy so the more the men belt out their song, the more likely they are to be well fed and hardy – a sign of good genes for breeding. Usually, once a female has been serenaded and the male’s work for the season is done, he will quieten down. Which means the birds you hear still giving it full throttle come June and July, when the season is almost over, are typically lonely bachelors who’ve not yet found a mate.
Listen out for the mimics
There are plenty of feathered friends among the chorus who do copycat impressions of other birds’ songs. Funnily enough, this is a good way for male birds to increase their repertoire and show off to the ladies that they’ve survived enough breeding seasons to have heard all these other songs. Some migratory birds even mimic the calls of international birds to show just how well travelled they are. Marsh warblers are among the best impressionists, mimicking the sounds of up to 70 species, all of which helps advertise what exotic climes they spent their winter holidays in.
It’s all about timing
Ever wondered why birds pick the early morning to stretch their vocal chords? It’s because morning isn’t a good time to find food so instead they focus their efforts on finding a mate. With the world still asleep, they also have the stage all to themselves, allowing their song to travel 20 times as far than later in the day when there are other noises about. What’s more, first thing their predators will still be snoozing away so it’s less dangerous.
There’s a dusk chorus, too
Unbeknown to many of us, the birdie song has an evening performance that’s much quieter but just as charming to listen to. Here you’re much more likely to hear blue tits and tree sparrows, even though they sing in the morning too. But the main celebrity of the night is always the nightingale, which likes to own the stage with a solo performance, any time before sunrise. Nightingales can’t rely on visual clues to attract a mate so their song is particularly important and must not get lost among the cacophony of other voices.
How to get the best dawn chorus experience
Pick a fine, clear day with little wind. things normally get going towards the end of April and early June, although in some places things have started earlier this year due to the warm winter. Get into position a good hour before sunrise, with plenty of warm clothes and a blanket and wait for each performer to take to the stage. You can also get tips for making your garden more bird-friendly from the RSPB’s Giving Nature a Home Campaign. The RSPB also runs special dawn chorus guided walks around the UK in April and May.
- To find out more visit homes.rspb.org.uk