As breeding season gets underway our birds will be singing in the greatest concert on earth. They sing so loudly at dawn because it’s not a good time to go foraging for food and they can focus their efforts on trying to attract a mate and defend their territories. With less background noise early on, their song can carry up to twenty times as far.
Singing is hard work, so it is usually the fittest, best fed males who sing the loudest. In many cases, once a female has been serenaded the male will sing less often as his work is done.
At times it can seem like the birds are competing to get their voice heard and the dawn chorus may sound like a frantic shouting match, but actually the birds know exactly when their slot is and if you listen regularly you will start to recognise certain species habitually starting before others.
Dunnocks and robins are among the first to start as they begin to sing about an hour before sunrise.
Blackbirds and song thrushes will follow; they probably want to be active fairly early as the ground is wetter in the morning so worms are more active and the ground is softer.
Then come wrens, tits and warblers, with the tiny call of the goldcrest joining them. These later arrivals to the chorus eat insects and are perhaps more sensitive to the coldness of dawn.
There is also an evening performance, a chorus at dusk, but it’s much quieter, and it’s easier to hear birds like blue tits and tree sparrows. They sing in the morning too, but we are less likely to notice them among the cacophony.
Martin Harper, RSPB Director of Conservation said: “As the breeding season approaches its peak, migrating birds like cuckoos, nightingales and warblers are returning to the UK for the summer and will join the chorus of resident blackbirds, wrens, dunnocks and robins. But some of the migrant species are declining and we shouldn’t take the dawn chorus for granted. Migration routes cross many different countries, that’s why it’s important that the RSPB works closely not just in the breeding grounds in the UK but also with other organisations and governments all over the world to tackle whatever problems they face.”
Summer visitors are birds that arrive in spring from the south to breed and spend summer here before heading back south with their new young in autumn. They include swallows and martins, warblers, flycatchers, wheatears, whinchats, redstarts, nightingales, yellow wagtails, tree pipits, cuckoos, swifts, nightjars, turtle doves, hobbies, ospreys, terns and Manx shearwaters.
If you want to listen to a dawn chorus its the best reason to be up before sunrise. You can listen from the comfort of your bed with the window flung open, or if you want front row seats, a number of dawn chorus events are being help on RSPB nature reserves around the UK in the coming weeks. For more information visit www.rspb.org.uk
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