Print page

What is the average length of time of the dawn chorus and is there a UK record for the earliest chorus?

Sent in by Stephen Gawen John Sellick, Enfield

This is a very 'timely' enquiry, as we are receiving lots of comments about the dawn chorus. It seemed to start early this year as the birds began their breeding activities. Perhaps the relatively mild winter weather and an early spring, has helped. 

Unfortunately, it is not all that clear cut. This confusion is due to nocturnal songsters, usually robins, that regularly sing throughout the night; this may have been the bird you heard at 04.50. 

Robins can forage in dim light so will often be active after dark. They are territorial all year round, not just during the breeding period, and will regularly be heard in full song at night. This can be triggered by bright, artificial lighting but this is not always the case. 

So, it is hardly surprising to note that robins are considered to be first bird to be heard in the dawn chorus. The lone chorister for a while but soon joined by song thrush and blackbird, wren, dunnock and great tits with house sparrows and many finches bringing up the rear. 

Dawn is probably the most tranquil time of the day so a great time for birds to sing to claim territories and mates. 4am is the average time for the dawn chorus to begin in early summer but some birds will be heard much earlier. Often it is still dark and not great for foraging so, what's a bird to do? Burst into song is the answer and aren't we glad that they do? 

It makes an amazing, joyful sound for us on a spring morning but, for the birds, it is full of purpose and ambition.