Catch the early bird and enjoy the dawn chorus

Blackbird by David Tipling/2020VISION

Colin Williams shows you how to make the most of nature's oldest and greatest wake-up call

On Sunday 2 May, wildlife-lovers will celebrate International Dawn Chorus Day. This annual event celebrates one of the oldest wake-up calls, the dawn chorus, and the beauty of birdsong.

It’s vibrant and uplifting: it’s powerful and it’s melodic and it happens as most of us are asleep. The dawn chorus (or “hymn to the dawn”) is one of nature’s great wonders and it’s free!

Experiencing the dawn chorus is truly a unique and rewarding experience; well worth the early rise. At a time when many people are feeling anxious and uncertain about what the future may bring, can there be better therapy than bird song?

No two dawn choruses are the same so one of the delights is to list the order in which species first begin to sing. The times at which birds ‘rise’ are related to their feeding behaviour and the amount of light in the sky.


Blackbird by David Tipling/2020VISION

Blackbirds and skylarks (origin of ‘up with the lark’) are traditionally the first species to take their cue from the eastern sky.

Peak time for the dawn chorus is late April and early May and it is about 5am, as the sun rises, when it will reach its magnificent intense peak. It is during the dawn chorus that one realises the size and variety of the bird population in an area. 

The biggest diversity of bird song will be heard in the countryside - however, the abundance of gardens and parks in our towns and cities provide the perfect homes for many bird species; so just open your bedroom window and listen……. 

The rich repertoire of melodic notes of a blackbird, the soft conversational notes of a flock of rooks, the desolate song of a mistle thrush and the rhythmic cooing of woodpigeons to name but a few, are some of the sounds to be heard at first light.

By five o'clock, the songs of many other common woodland and garden birds, such as dunnock, chiffchaff, chaffinch, nuthatch, blue and great tits will echo through the sky and all add to the magnificent intense peak of the dawn chorus. As the sun begins to rise and as birds begin to feed and set about the affairs of the day the chorus died away.


Chiffchaff by Margaret Holland

Learning bird sounds is a very useful exercise for aiding bird identification as songs and calls are among birds' most obvious attributes. The principal method of learning bird songs and calls, apart from through field experience, is to listen to various sets of bird recordings.

Field guides are less useful as rendering bird voices in writing is inevitably inexact and personal.  Nowadays there are a number of high quality bird sound cds and dvds available on the market to help the beginner and intrigue the expert. However there is no substitute for personal effort and experience.

Everyone's experiences are different as some people have difficulty in hearing certain frequencies or may have blank spots within the normal hearing range.

A recent TV series counting down the UK's Top 40 wildlife spectacles awarded bird song and the dawn chorus a top ten place. The dawn chorus must rank as one of the greatest natural shows on earth - nature's own awe-inspiring symphony!

Set your alarm clock early this weekend, head outside or just open your bedroom window wide and enjoy it for yourself.

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