Dawn chorus delights in the East of England
Spring has well and truly sprung and those prepared to clamber out of bed early will witness one of nature’s greatest phenomenons, the dawn chorus.
The voices of spring
As the days begin to lengthen and food becomes more plentiful, male songbirds are getting ready to breed.
Early in March, native species such as robins, song thrushes and blackbirds start to sing. The chorus then reaches a cresendo in early May as migrant species such as warblers, chiffchaffs, blackcaps and cuckoos return to breed.
Males tend to do all of the singing
Singing is generally confined to male birds, who sing for two reasons. The first is to attract a female, the second is to stake their territories and warn rival males away.
Singing requires enornmous amounts of energy, and the fittest, best fed males produce the strongest, most impressive songs.
The best singers attract the females
Females are attracted to the best singers, as they are more likely to have a good territory and be better at raising their young. As a general rule, once a male has attracted a female his singing will diminish. A bird that sings late into the breeding season has most likely failed to attract a mate.
Why do birds sing in the morning?
There are most probably several reasons why birds sing in the morning. In the early hours of the morning the air is still, and sound transmission is up to 20 times better than midday. The dim early morning light also means that the songbirds are less visible to potential preditors.
There would also appear to be some truth in the saying the ‘early bird catches the worm’. The first birds start to sing around an hour before sunrise, these early risers include song thrushes, skylarks, robins and blackbirds.
Their diet consists mainly of worms, who come to the surface in the cool of the night and who tend to burrow underground as the day heats and the dew evaporates.
Smaller species such as warblers and wrens start to sing much later, probably because the insects on which they feed do not start to fly until the air warms up or because the insects are difficult to see in the half light.
As the level of light increases and food becomes easier to find, the thoughts of the birds turn to food and the dawn chorus begins to fade away.
The sounds of spring
To experience the dawn chorus, we'd recommend you get into position at least an hour before sunrise. Remember to take plenty of warm clothing, as it can still be cold at this time of year.
Over open grasslands listen out for the pee-wit calls of lapwings and the delightful song-flight of skylarks. Male skylarks fly up and hover over their territories singing continuously for many minutes and then parachute down. In woodland and bushes listen out for song thrushes, blackbirds, robins and wrens.
For those who struggle to get up early, why not venture out for the dusk chorus, as the birds settle down to roost for the night?
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