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Ready, steady, sing!

Last modified: 27 April 2015

Song thrush singing

Image: Chris Gomersall

If you’re an early riser you’ve probably been lucky enough to hear the world’s finest sopranos, tenors and baritones taking part in the greatest concert on earth - the dawn chorus!

With International Dawn Chorus Day just around the corner on Sunday, 3 May, RSPB NI has issued some tips on the ‘who’s who’ in the choir and how you can tune in to a very special dawn chorus event next weekend.

At times it can seem like the birds in our gardens are in a deafening competition to get their voice heard but there is actually method in the madness and a very definite pecking order.

Act one; robins and dunnocks

Act two; blackbirds, songthrushes and skylarks

Act three; chiff chaff, chaffinch, wood pigeon, collared dove

Act four; blue tits, long tailed tit, great tit, goldcrest and tree sparrows

The first birds start to sing about an hour before sunrise, with wrens and robins among the earliest to warm up.

Birds sing extra loudly at dawn because it’s not a good time to go foraging for food so they focus their efforts at the start of the day on trying to attract a mate and hold a territory. With less background noise early on, their song can carry up to twenty times as far.

Blackbirds and song thrushes come next, probably because the ground is wetter in the morning so worms are more active and the ground is softer.

Finally, helping the chorus reach a crescendo, wrens, tits and warblers come in, with the tiny call of the goldcrest in the mix too. These smaller birds, who are perhaps more sensitive to the coldness of dawn, feed on insects that themselves appear later in the morning.

There is also a chorus at dusk, but it’s much quieter, and birds like blue tits and tree sparrows prefer to sing at this time of day.

Amy Colvin from RSPB NI commented: “The dawn chorus sounds like a frantic free-for-all but actually the singers know exactly when their slot is and if you listen regularly you will start to recognise certain species habitually starting before others.

“It doesn’t really matter if you don’t know what those species are – it’s still a beautiful, natural piece of entertainment.”

But if you can’t quite manage to get out of bed to listen to your local dawn chorus, don’t worry!

BBC Radio Ulster is joining forces with RTE to broadcast the dawn chorus live on air from midnight on Saturday, 2 May until 7am on Sunday 3 May.

Presenter Anne-Marie McAleese will be at our Portmore Lough nature reserve in County Armagh to link up live with RTE’s Derek Mooney at Cuskinny Marsh Nature Reserve in County Cork. There will also be links with NRK, Norway’s national broadcasting service, and other experts and listeners across Ireland.

The race will be on to find out which bird will be the first to tweet - and where!

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