Time to get in tune with the dawn chorus

Robins and great tits are among the first songsters of the season. Picture: RSPB/PA Wire.
Robins and great tits are among the first songsters of the season. Picture: RSPB/PA Wire.
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A chorus of shrill notes played out from feathered chests tell us that winter is giving way to spring. Natural melodies from winged wildlife perched in the outside world beyond our bedroom windows tell us warmer weather is on its way, and of course, that a new day is dawning.

To witness this spectacle fully, it is a case of rising early, for the dawn chorus typically breaks out about an hour before sunrise between March and July.

Delightful though this musical backdrop may be, it is sung with purpose by species who are defending their territories and that are producing notes from their little lungs in order to attract a mate.

As the RSPB explains, our songbirds time their breeding season to the warmest time of the year, when there is ample food and plenty of daylight in which to search out their next meal.

As spring arrives, the lengthening daylight switches male songbirds into breeding mode.

The first songsters of the season are residents such as robins and great tits, which are joined later on by migrants like chiffchaffs and blackcaps, making May and June the peak time to enjoy the dawn chorus.

Singing is hard work and uses up hard-won food reserves. Those males who sing the strongest are therefore marked out by females as the fittest and best-fed, making them the most attractive partners.

In many species, the RSPB report, once a female has been attracted, the male will sing less often.

The act of observing the dawn chorus is celebrated by a number of events held at nature reserves and other wildlife havens across Yorkshire during the spring and early summer months.

In fact, one particular date is marked for the celebrations. International Dawn Chorus Day is a worldwide event. Held on the first Sunday of May – the 6th this year – people all over the globe will mark the occasion by rising early to greet the morning sun and enjoy nature’s symphony.

This cheery event was set up in the 1980s, starting out in Birmingham, when broadcaster and environmentalist Chris Baines asked people to attend his birthday party at 4am so they could share in the dawn chorus with him. Now, The Wildlife Trusts promote International Chorus Day each year.

Among the local events being held to observe the early-hours wonder are dawn chorus walks on May 5 at Yorkshire Sculpture Park near Wakefield from 7am (see ysp.org.uk) and at Denso Marston Nature Reserve in Baildon 4.30am (see dm-naturereserve.org.uk).

On May 6, dawn chorus walks are held at the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Potteric Carr Nature Reserve near Doncaster (see ywt.org.uk), at the RSPB’s St Aidan’s Nature Reserve in Leeds and its Fairburn Ings Nature Reserve in Castleford (see rspb.org.uk), all starting at 5am.