Dawn chorus wood warbler

International Dawn Chorus Day

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International Dawn Chorus Day is celebrated every year on the first Sunday in May. It is a day to get up (very!) early and soak up the amazing early morning sound of our songbirds in action. But what exactly is the dawn chorus?

What Is the Dawn Chorus?

The dawn chorus is the sound of various species of passerine, or songbird, singing to attract a mate and defend a territory. This occurs predominantly during the breeding season, which means March to July in the UK. Early May is a good time to celebrate this natural wonder because by then our resident breeders have been joined by many of the birds that migrate here to breed.

Different species join in each morning at different times. Robins and blackbirds tend to start earliest, before sunrise, while warblers and wrens join in later. This produces a wonderful effect as each species gradually joins the show. It is as though different sections of an orchestra are slowly coming together.

dawn chorus song thrush
Song thrushes are one of the earlier singers

Although there is a more subdued evening chorus, dawn is the prime time for birds to sing. This is partly because the cooler air is more likely to be still and allows sound to carry further. This in turn will hopefully attract more females. There will also be less background noise to shout over, and birds are safer from predators in lower light. Lastly, food sources like insects, don’t tend be active until later, so if a bird can’t feed, it might as well be doing something else constructive!

How to Listen to the Dawn Chorus

To hear the full dawn chorus, you will need to be in your chosen spot about an hour before sunrise. This way you will get to hear all the early singers and then each successive species as it joins in. If you can get to woodland, then you will probably hear the biggest range of species. But even in a town you will hear blackbirds, woodpigeons, thrushes and sparrows.

dawn chorus willow warbler
Willow warblers join the chorus later on

If you want to identify the birds you hear, there are some great websites and apps. The Wildlife Trusts site has a great introduction to the most common songs you will hear. Apps include one from Warblr (yes, this is the correct spelling!) which not only automatically identifies UK bird songs, but lets you submit what you hear and contribute to citizen science.

However and wherever you choose to listen, it really is worth the early start!

Further Reading

Read about some more of my favourite signs of spring here.

Steven Lovatt takes the fact we could hear birdsong better during the quietness of lockdown as the starting point for his book Birdsong in a Time of Silence. He explores what birdsong means to us, as well as exploring the science behind the singing.

The RSPB’s guide includes a CD to help you learn the calls and songs of 65 species of bird.

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