What’s so great about the dawn chorus, anyway?

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Wildlife writer Jane Adams grew up in the suburbs, and vividly recalls the first time she shared her morning tea with the waking birds

The wren, whose song ‘packs a mighty machine-gun punch’

In the past, I didn’t understand why people got so excited about the dawn chorus. Wasn’t it just a bunch of birds singing ridiculously early in the morning? I grew up in a London suburb where the chirp of a house sparrow was as good as it got. Then we moved to the edge of a Dorset village.
That first spring, I woke up every morning at 5am to close the window, half asleep. Not due to noisy builders, or dustmen, or someone digging up the road.
It was birds.
Just singing.
One morning I had to get up at 4am for work, and I took my cuppa into the garden. And that’s when I experienced my first dawn chorus.

‘… the unexpectedly beautiful song of a little brown dunnock’

Confident and melodic, he belted his tune out into the darkness, followed soon after by the softly repeated lullaby of a wood pigeon. In the distance, a tawny owl hoo-hoo’d goodnight to his mate, followed a few seconds later by his partner’s kee-wick.
The urgent song of a wren split the first rays of sunlight. As one of our smallest birds, its song packs a mighty machine-gun punch and it seemed to buoy other birds to join in. There was a robin, blue tits, great tits and a chaffinch I think.
Then the repeated chant of a song thrush, and the unexpectedly beautiful song of a little brown dunnock (see video below left if, like me, you’re not sure – Ed). There were other tunes I didn’t recognise, and it didn’t matter. The sound rose and fell in waves, and, as it did, I shivered with pure pleasure and felt the hairs raise on the back of my neck.

That’s when I understood.
These small feathered creatures weren’t singing for me, and they certainly weren’t trying to interrupt my sleep at 5am.
They were singing for the chance to attract a mate, to establish their territories. They were singing for their futures, for their offspring, for their very lives. That’s why the dawn chorus is special. Why it matters. Just try to imagine a world without birds.
Within fifteen minutes, it was nearly over, and I was left with just the intermittent chirp of a house sparrow.

Dawn Chorus events in Dorset:

Dorchester
Dawn Chorus Walk
13th May
5 to 7am
Dorchester walking festival
Shillingstone, Blandford.
Dawn Chorus Walk with Breakfast
13th May
4.30 to 6.30am
The CRT
Radipole Lake
Nearly the Dawn Chorus with Breakfast Pastry
14th May
7 to 9am
The RSPB
Arne
Not Quite the Dawn Chorus with Breakfast
7th, 13th and 21st May
7 to 9am
The RSPB

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