6 May 2012

International Dawn Chorus Day

This morning I played at being a proper naturalist.

Wearing heavy winter coat and quirky Peruvian hat I ventured out with notebook and sound recorder to take part in International Dawn Chorus Day. While others around the world walked through woods or reed beds, perhaps even tropical jungle, I chose to sit on the bench in my garden. Deliberately so, not only because my interest is in the urban environment but also because it meant I didn’t have to get up real early to travel to a nature reserve. Ten minutes fumbling with thermals and I was out in the wild.

The sun officially rose at 5.24 am this morning. Expert birding people say the dawn chorus happens an hour before sunrise, so I figured I’d catch the last half hour and get up quarter to 5. Stepping outside was a magical moment. Inside the house I couldn’t hear many birds, and was worried this would be a waste of precious sleep time, but opening the back door revealed a different world of busy chirping, although the birds weren’t loud; it was a soft gentle sound. The experts were right though, after a few minutes the chorus as a whole died down leaving a lone blackbird to sing his song. It was almost as if the birds stopped singing as soon as the sun rose, at 5.24 on the dot.


  • My garden and those of surrounding neighbours are empty of birds. During the day all sorts zoom through but at dawn – no one. Of course this could be because I was there, but I don’t think so.
  • The dominant bird was a blackbird that used a nearby TV aerial as its main perch. Other birds sat on aerials. Would they sit on the chimneys if the aerials weren’t there? What is going to happen now we all have satellite TV and the aerials come down? Do birds suffer if there are no high places to sing in the morning?
  • To my ears the blackbird’s song was different to the evening one I know. It seemed to have a whistle in it.
  • Here is the blackbird singing early on: Here he is an hour later. Quieter?:
  • The local cats were out in force – unfortunately. Surprisingly, and rather comically, they didn’t come over to talk to me like they usually do. They were very wary and one cat was so shocked to see a human out this early he turned round and ran away.
  • Sparrows, wood pigeons, magpies, starlings and geese were the other bird species that featured.
  • Smaller, more tuneful, birds could be heard in the front of the house, but none came near this area of gardens.
  • Seagulls flew silently overhead in a north-westerly direction, perhaps making their way to the Manchester Ship Canal. But where were they coming from?
  • The starlings appeared after the main chorus. Their ‘song’ didn’t sound any different from the normal racket, and I think they just got on with feeding their chicks. Don’t male starlings need to defend their territory?

Overall, I am glad I made the effort. It was fun. I’ll have another go in warmer weather; perhaps the little birds will come nearer. The local park would also be a good place to go, if the gates are open. But I am a little disappointed that the kind of birds you really want in your garden weren’t there. And goodness, I wish those cats would go away. I’m almost tempted to abandon the idea of a wildlife friendly garden and turn it into a neat and tidy Japanese style plot. The blackbird could sit on top of the pagoda, and the cats would love the gravel ... see, no difference at all!

And here are some geese flying over just as the sun rose.

Dawn Chorus Notes