This week’s guest column comes from Dr Chris Andrews, visitor services officer at RSPB Frampton Marsh...
Right across Europe, the finest singers are tuning up. Preparing their voices in readiness to battle for their home. No, I’m not talking about the Eurovision Song Contest. This is something altogether far more tuneful, the dawn chorus.
At this time of year birds are beginning to nest and raise young. In order to successfully do so, they need both somewhere safe to make their nest, and enough food to feed to their chicks. This means laying claim to a patch of land to call their own, with all the nest sites and food inside it belonging to them. Of course, everyone wants their own patch, so disputes can occur. Rather than resorting to fisticuffs, the birds instead try to resolve arguments through song.
By singing, birds can prove how healthy they are. The bird that can sing louder and longer than others will be the fitter and stronger. This will discourage rivals from trying to encroach on their territory and also attract a partner.
Because each bird is only concerned with driving away rivals of the same species, different birds have different songs. Blackbirds have a liquid melody, likened to ‘how liquid honey would sound’. Great tits have a bouncing chirpy but ever so slightly repetitive two-tone ditty. And wrens explode into a flurry of notes before lapsing back into silence, whilst skulking in a bush. Maybe you have heard ‘Tweet of the Day’ on Radio 4? Each day they have broadcast the song of a British bird, with Kate Humble providing commentary. They have now covered more than 250 different birds!
To hear this symphony of sound, it is the early bird that catches the juiciest worm. First thing in the morning, the air is stiller and there is less noise from human activity. This means other sounds appear louder and travel further. And birds have learnt to exploit this to their advantage, launching into a full-on frenzy of singing. Just after the sun has come up is often best, if you can wake up! Go for a walk or even just sit out in the garden, maybe with a cup of coffee to wake you up. Or else just crack open the window and snuggle back in bed, as the melodies drift in. If you really can’t face an early morning, there is usually a second bite at the cherry in the evening, but it is never quite as good.