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International Dawn Chorus Day

International Dawn Chorus Day

The dawn chorus is a true natural wonder. And International Dawn Chorus Day celebrates this every year on the first Sunday in May. But what exactly is the dawn chorus, and how can you hear it at its best?

Why Do Birds Sing?

During the breeding season, birds sing for two main reasons. The first is to attract a mate. Trying to get the attention of a prospective partner when you spend most of your time in dense foliage is tricky. If you can project your voice through the trees, though, then you are much more likely to get a female to notice you. This also proves how fit and strong you are. The louder and longer you can sing, the more likely it is that you are a healthy individual. And this is just what female birds want in a partner, as it means healthy genes are passed on to offspring.

The second reason birds sing is to tell rival males that a territory is taken. This reduces the risk of another male bird coming in and gaining mating rights with any females you are trying to partner.

International dawn chorus day reed bunting

What Is the Dawn Chorus?

The dawn chorus is the sound of all this taking place at the start of each day, with different bird species joining in as the morning progresses. The dawn chorus is at its best from March to July. Resident species, such as the robin and blackbird, will start singing early in spring. They are joined later in the season by migrants, like blackcaps and willow warblers. This makes May a great time to listen for a full symphony of species.

But why dawn? Because the air is cooler and more likely to be still, songs can travel much further and attract more females. There is also less background noise to contend with. In addition, it is a less dangerous time to sing as predators won’t see you as easily. And if you can’t forage at that time of day because insects aren’t active, you might as well do something constructive and attract a mate.

Dawn Chorus Day

Dawn Chorus Day began in the 1980s in Birmingham. Local broadcaster Chris Baines celebrated his birthday with an early morning visit to a nearby nature reserve. The local Wildlife Trust began promoting the event and it is now celebrated internationally. People in over 80 countries get up early and head out to listen to the sounds of spring in any location where there are birds singing.

International dawn chorus day wren

The best way to get the most out of the dawn chorus is to be in place about an hour before the sun rises. This way you will hear each species join in until the peak time of half an hour each side of sunrise. The first singers are robins and blackbirds, with wrens and warblers starting later.

If you want to be able to identify the different birds you hear, there are lots of great resources online. This one from the Wildlife Trusts is a good introduction. There are also some great phone apps; this one from Warblr also helps you contribute to citizen science when you share what you hear.

And don’t forget that even if you live in an urban area, there will still be plenty of birds singing. So set the alarm clock and get out there!