Every year on the first Sunday of May, the world celebrates International Dawn Chorus Day. Well, we say “the world”, but when nature’s symphony is in full flow, many of us are still in bed! But this year can be different. We’re going to show you how to get the most out of this wonderful day.
What is the dawn chorus?
The whole picture of the dawn chorus is a fascinating one. For the birds, it’s not an opportunity to delight their human observers – it determines whether or not they get to perform in the mating game that season. Just like stags fighting and peacocks showing off, the dawn chorus is all tied up with male strength, stamina and intelligence, all factors that determine a male’s eligibility to the females. Singing beautiful songs at high volume actually takes up a lot of energy, so if a bird can demonstrate that he can sing louder and longer than his rivals, it must prove that he is fitter, smarter and better at hunting and foraging than the others.
There are also factors such as being higher up than rivals and starting earlier, which are all positive factors in the eyes of the females. Most of the time, the males need to be up and at it solely to start their performances, because the insects they feed on are still fast asleep. It’s also thought that a reason the chorus starts when it’s still dark is because the singing would be like a siren to predators, but the darkness gives them a layer of protection.
While the science behind the dawn chorus is a story in itself (and the paragraphs above are just scraping the surface), for nature lovers, the dawn chorus every spring is one of the wonders of the world.
How to get the most out of dawn chorus
Get up early enough and you will hear the chorus rouse from complete silence to the full concerto over the course of several hours. On a normal day, the chorus will start at about 4 a.m., which is when you’ll appreciate the phrase “up with the lark”, as that will be one of the earliest you’ll hear, along with blackbirds, robins and wrens. As time progresses, thrushes, tits and sparrows will join in, until the peak around sunrise will have almost all the birds singing. At this point, on a good day, it will be practically impossible for the untrained ear to identify individual songs, responses or directions, but it’s no less enjoyable for that.
Another interesting thing happens just after sunrise – the chorus quite abruptly pauses. It’s only temporary, but there’s a noticeable lull, probably while birds get some feeding in, before it all picks up again and reaches levels similar to the peak. It’s remarkable that all the species and individuals follow this same pattern.
As the day progresses, the singing will never truly stop, but birds will be alternating between calling, listening and foraging or hunting, so there will be a more irregular pattern of singing. Finally, there is a dusk chorus, which doesn’t usually reach dawn proportions but will be more intense than anything heard since the post-sunrise period.
International Dawn Chorus Day
The dawn chorus happens over many weeks as the different species have their own preferred mating seasons. But it’s around the start of May that on average, the largest number will be at their most vocal. That’s why the first Sunday of every May is designated International Dawn Chorus Day. It’s on a Sunday because you’re probably off work and can devote a whole morning to it, plus there will be less traffic than a commuting day and the air will be much quieter.
Dawn Chorus Day was founded in the 1980s, but nowadays there’s even more reason to participate, because thanks to social media and the internet we’re all able to share our discoveries and experiences. As well as getting sheer joy out of the festival of birdsong, your social posts can also be picked up by scientists looking to get a snapshot of the dawn chorus, which can be used to plot trends from year to year.
Why not put these dates in your diary and get involved every year:
Dawn Chorus Day 2018 – 6 May
Dawn Chorus Day 2019 – 5 May
Dawn Chorus Day 2020 – 3 May
Dawn Chorus Day 2021 – 2 May
Make your garden bird-friendly
Although you will be able to hear birds from hundreds of metres away, there’s no harm in making it known to our feathered friends that your garden is a welcoming place to be. Why not erect a bird table or two, or a complete bird hotel, complete with well-stocked feeding station, bird bath, shelter and perches. No need to have cable television – they’ll provide all their own entertainment!