The Dawn Chorus is one of the most recognisable signs that Spring is truly with us. You begin to notice it in the early morning from the month of March right through to July. But what is it all about? In simple terms, it is composed of the collective sounds; the chirps and cheeps; the twitters and tweets of the wild birds in your area. The pre-dawn silence is broken by the song of a single bird – very often a blackbird or robin. It is a moment of magic and never disappoints. Individuals of their own kind take up the challenge and call back. Gradually thrushes, tits, wood-pigeons, wrens and others join in and before you know it every bird in the area is giving it their all.
Typically, it is almost exclusively male birds you hear singing. But why? It must take loads of energy giving it welly first thing in the morning – and on an empty stomach at that. It also advertises your location to predators. Therein lie some of the answers. A male bird is attempting two feats at once, establishing and maintaining his territory while also calling out to nearby females. ‘Listen to my powerful song – see how well fed and strong I am. I would make an excellent partner and provide you with a place where food is abundant and give you my protection. Oh – and by the way – if there are other guys listening – don’t even think about it. This is my patch!’
So, why choose the early hours to start a sing song? Well, it’s still fairly dark, so it’s too early to go hunting or foraging for food – unless you’re an owl – and predators won’t find it easy to spot you.
You can hear the Dawn Chorus just about anywhere – in city parks, the open countryside, on marshland or by the sea. The members of the orchestra may vary, but the sound is no less wonderful. Remember, however, that even though it may sound soothing, relaxing and beautiful beyond description to our ears – it is in essence composed of a mixture of amorous male entreaties on the one hand and loud, aggressive threats on the other. But that’s lads for you.
Bear in mind also, that each species is just appealing to its own kind and pretty much ignores all the others. The street punks are out there trying to impress female punks while the rockers are throwing shapes to catch the eye of a rock chick. The rook – the bird King of Death Metal – all deep growled vocals and attitude fares surprisingly well, if Geashill’s growing population is anything to go by. The ones with the more cultured arias may seem more highbrow to us but are in reality playing the same old game.
In fairness, some appear (to our ears) to do it with more style than others. The songs of birds such as the blackbird and robin are complex and inventive and have been passed on down through the generations, indeed from father to son. Others, such as wood-pigeon don’t appear to put in much of an effort with a single note repeated 5 times hardwired into their systems. Yet, show me a bird more successful at breeding and colonising habitats all over the world.
The cuckoo who has never even met its mum or dad has just 2 notes to play with but what an unforgettable little song it is.The aforementioned cuckoo has been one of the top 3-5 earliest songsters in and around Geashill this Spring and has been heard over Ard Bog from the Glebe Walk and to the back of the esker from the Picnic Area. Blackbirds by the Castle have been very vocal - and Great Tits with their insistent ‘Teacher-Teacher-Teacher’ call have been a feature of the Glebe Walk.
If you do decide to set the alarm for about 4am some morning in May/June – and you really should – then Saturday night for Sunday morning is best as there is much less traffic noise around. The village is lovely and quiet at that hour, but move slowly and quietly, trying not to disturb the rooks by The Green as they will kick up a fuss and drown out the other voices. The performance will still be in full swing an hour after sunrise – but by then the thoughts of a hot cuppa will beckon and it will be time to return to your nest.
Pat Foley, Geashill, May 2021