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How to enjoy birdsong on Dawn Chorus Day

How to enjoy birdsong on Dawn Chorus Day

International Dawn Chorus Day is this Sunday (May 7), so why not get up early and enjoy beautiful birdsong with people all over the world?

Whether you are a morning person or not, you will have heard about the dawn chorus. Not the irritating crowing of a cockerel, but the rather the more melodic twittering of songbirds waking up as the sun rises, letting the world know about it. If you are definitely not a morning person and have never experienced this rather happy way to start the day, then you have a good reason to try this new experience.

This Sunday, on May 7, the world celebrates International Dawn Chorus Day, and you can take part whether you live in the city or in the countryside. All you have to do is to get up a little earlier than usual.

Dawn Chorus Day history

It was Chris Baines, naturalist, environmentalist, author and TV presenter who, on his birthday on May 4 in 1987, called friends together to start his day by listening to the dawn chorus at Moseley Bog by Birmingham.

"On Chris Baines' birthday on May 4 in 1987, he called friends together to listen to the dawn chorus at Moseley Bog, Birmingham"

The day, the first Sunday in May, rather than May 4, soon became a national, and before long, international celebration. Today, more than 80 countries lead special events to celebrate the joy of listening to songbirds welcoming a new day.

It is the breeding season, in spring, that is at the forefront of the enhanced dawn chorus that we can hear between March and July, with the best song taking place between May and June.

Why birds sing

Silhouette of a songbird singing in a tree at dawnThe dawn chorus sees songbirds singing beautiful songs around the world. Credit: DianesPhotographicDesigns

Basically, it’s all about showing off to the girls, about strength and territory. It is mainly male birds that sing first thing in the morning, and then it is only the strong ones, because singing complex songs takes energy, especially after a long night and before breakfast.

That means that the birds that sing are the desirable ones which would make good mates, and also have a large territory to defend—another appealing factor to the female birds that are looking to breed in spring.

Why do birds sing so early?

It seems that, while the early bird gets the worm, before sunrise they can’t yet see the worms, nor can predators spot them. It’s still quiet with no surrounding noise, meaning that sound, reportedly, carries 20 times further than later in the day. And the rising sun woke them up anyway.

"Male birds sing to let other birds know that it’s their territory and that they are strong and ready to mate"

So, why shouldn’t they sing and let the surrounding birds know that they are there, it’s their territory, and that they are strong and ready to mate.

Which species of birds sing?

Robin singing in a treeRobins are among the early rising songbirds. Credit: Brockswood

The really early risers are the robins and blackbirds, which start well before sunrise. They are followed by thrushes, wood pigeons, wrens and great and blue tits. Once it’s light, the sparrows and finches and other latecomers join in.

Before you know it, and entire orchestra has been assembled and the gardens, parks, fields and forests are filled with song. With a slow start at around an hour before sunrise, the concert lasts until around 30 minutes after sunrise.

How to experience Dawn Chorus Day in the city

Even in the city it is possible to join in the celebration. Depending on your home’s location, you might simply be able to open the window and step onto the balcony to hear the blackbirds’ distinct and involved song. The little robins can be quite noisy, and while many would not accept the persistent cooing of a wood pigeon necessarily as song, it counts as well.

For more variety, head to your nearest park or woodland. It doesn’t take a large area of nature to be able to get quite a good selection of birds together. In London alone, some 300 species have been recorded over a year, with the most common being the sparrow, wood pigeon, blackbird, starling, blue and great tit, and even the goldfinch.

Celebrating Dawn Chorus Day in the countryside

On International Dawn Chorus Day, and, in fact, several days before and after, the RSPB organises countless events held in nature reserves across the country. Depending on your preferences and location, you can go out into nature—be it a forest, rolling hills or along the coast—with a guide and truly enjoy the chorus that will envelop you from all sides.

"The RSPB organises guided events held in nature reserves across the country, to enjoy the dawn chorus from all sides"

With the guides being able to point out different types of song, identify birds and teach you more about the species in that habitat, this is the best way to truly celebrate Dawn Chorus Day.

Worldwide Dawn Chorus Day experiences

Hermit thrushThe hermit thrush is native to North America and has a distinctive song. Credit: Jean Landry

If you find yourself in North America, listen out for the song of the hermit thrush, often deemed the most beautiful of them all. In India, birdwatching societies take the opportunity to record as many different species as they can find, including cuckoos and koels in and around Kolkata, while in Ireland, you can listen to the chorus live on the radio.

If none of this persuaded you to get out of bed early, why not try dusk chorus? It’s a bit more difficult to hear, but there is another burst of song just before sunset. 

Banner photo: Andy Wasley

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