Enjoy the Dawn Chorus
PUBLISHED: 13:21 21 April 2011 | UPDATED: 19:14 20 February 2013
If you want take up birdwatching then listen up, says the RSPB's Nick Tomlinson
Common bird songs, just press play!
If you want take up birdwatching then listen up, says the RSPBs Nick Tomlinson
This is the season when our resident songsters, with numbers swelled by summer visitors, are generally more visible and certainly much more audible. May is the month when the dawn chorus reaches its glorious peak and is celebrated around the world by International Dawn Chorus Day, which this year is on 1 May.
Its also the month when the RSPB hopes to lure people out of their beds at some unearthly hour to join them on various Dawn Chorus Walks. If youve never been up early enough to hear the dawn chorus before, then do it this year. Its an unforgettable experience. As the composer Messiaen wrote: I doubt that one can find in any human music, however inspired, melodies and rhythms that have the sovereign freedom of bird song.
In fact, part of the joy of birdwatching is actually bird listening. Learning to recognise bird songs and calls is not only very rewarding, its also a valuable tool. Youll often hear a bird before you see it. For instance, take a walk around my local patch, the RSPBs nature reserve at Radipole Lake in the middle of Weymouth. Therell be quite a few of the usual suspects that you know from your garden. The robin with its distinctive tick tick call, like a clockwork toy being wound up, and its melancholy sequence of fluty whistles and warbling trills, usually including a dwiddle-oo, dwiddle-eedee, dwiddle-oo phrase.
Then the dunnock, with its short, shrill tsuu call, often repeated a number of times, and its high-pitched rapid song which Bill Oddie described as sounding like a shopping trolley with a squeaky wheel!
Somewhere a great tit is ringing out its bold, repetitive tea-cher tea-cher song and blue tits are scolding each other with their sharp, sibilant tsee tsee tsees. And the wood pigeon repeating its five mournful syllables take two cows david: well, thats what it sounds like to me!
Therell also be a few sounds that youre not likely to hear in your garden. The incredibly loud and explosive song of the Cettis warbler a bit like the first few bars of Mozarts Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, but considerably speeded up. Then theres the slightly nasal pinging calls of a small party of bearded tits as they flit among the reeds, the high-pitched penetrating whistle of the kingfisher and the weird sharming call of the water rail, which sounds like a pig squealing.
The next time youre out birdwatching, try playing the sounds like game. The wood pigeon may be saying something far more profound than I give him credit for. Find your own ways of remembering a birds calls and song. I have even heard the chaffinchs song likened to a cricketer running up to bowl!
But why do birds sing? All birds, even those that arent true song birds, are vocal all year round. Even if song birds arent in full song, theyre still in constant communication, staying in touch with family or flocks or warning each other of danger. But as winter turns to spring, the increase in daylight triggers a rise in the hormone testosterone in the males. Once the gangs all here the summer visitors that have arrived from their wintering grounds in Africa and southern Europe the boys have a great deal to say for themselves. Their focus now is on finding and keeping a territory, for feeding and breeding, and on finding and keeping a mate.
Birds have to learn and practise their music, so older birds will invariably have longer, stronger and more complex songs than youngsters. Theyre saying, Listen up, ladies. Im fit, Im healthy, Im experienced. Ill make a great mate and dad, and all you other chaps out there, steer clear. Im even strong enough to take time off from looking for food to sing and sing and sing
But why do they do it at such an inconvenient time of day? Well, the world is quieter at dawn so theyre more likely to be heard. The sun hasnt yet got the insects and other invertebrates going so theres less food to be foraged for.
If you really cant rouse yourself, there is a dusk chorus too. Its still beautiful, but far less intense. The other advantage of going on a Dawn Chorus Walk with the RSPB is that theres someone who can tell you which birds youre listening to. And thats a great start to your bird-watching career.
Blackbird: a full, rich, deep and throaty song in well-structured verses, with a thinner, warbled ending.
Wren: extraordinarily loud and exuberant song, full of churrs, trills and rattles.
Dunnock: brief, high-pitched and rather hurried warble, with each verse almost identical, delivered in quick series of three or four.
Song thrush: loud, clear and musical song, with each phrase repeated several times before moving to the next one.
Blue tit: high-pitched, repetitive, sibilant song, the commonest being two or three introductory notes leading to a trill at lower pitch and varying speeds.
Green woodpecker: loud, laughing call, which has earned it the country name of the yaffle, repeated every few minutes.
RSPB events in May
1 May: Dawn Chorus at Arne Walk. Enjoy the cacophony of sound as the reserves inhabitants wake up, followed by breakfast, 4.30am-7am. Booking essential, 01929 553360.
8 May: Dawn Chorus at Radipole Walk. Discover why our reedbeds are so full of song, followed by breakfast. 5.30am-8am. Booking essential, 01305 778313.
8 May: Radipole, Sights and Sound of Spring Walk. Dont want to get up with the larks? Join us at this later time where we start with breakfast, 8am-10.30am. Booking essential, 01305 778313.