Dawn chorus - the equivalent of singles night in a karaoke bar

Volunteer Alasdair McKee gives an entertaining take on the dawn chorus and urges us to get up early this Sunday for a wonderful avian concert
Image of wren singing © Stewart MacDonald

As lock down continues it’s easy to focus on all the things that we can’t do at the moment. But the change in how we are living also brings some opportunities. The reduction in traffic really reduces noise pollution. We can now hear some things that usually get lost in that constant background hum.

One of those sounds is the fantastic early morning concert that birds perform at this time of year. The dawn chorus is coming to its peak at the moment and Sunday 3 May is International Dawn Chorus Day

About an hour before sunrise the first birds begin to sing. One of the earliest risers is the blackbird. One will begin to sing and then another will join in, then another, until the song starts to spread out in a wave across the landscape. Other birds come in as the chorus builds: thrushes, robins, skylarks. After them will come the smaller birds: wrens and various species of warbler. 

This musical pecking order is related to the size, and the diet, of the different birds. Larger birds like blackbirds are better insulated against the early morning chill. They are the early birds that catch the worm. Quite literally.  If worms are your version of a full English you can start early and pull them out of the dewy ground. 

If you prefer more of a continental breakfast, a light snack of gnats and flies, then you have to hang around until it warms up a bit and insects are on the wing. That’s why smaller birds stay in bed a bit longer before belting out their own greatest hits.

Safe from predators in the dark hour before dawn, the birds have a chance to claim territory and show potential mates that they have enough energy and confidence to warble an impressive aria. It’s the equivalent of singles night in a karaoke bar. Except the singing is so much better. 

Normally you would have to travel to a remote area of woodland to hear this avian orchestra at its finest.  In the current quiet though, you should be able to hear the sunrise symphony even from a town garden. 

Trust me, it’s worth getting up for. The sound is glorious and reminds us that nature is still out there and that life will go on. And it will. After a cup of tea and a few more hours back in bed.

Alasdair McKee