Bringing to life spectacles of natural wonder on our doorstep
The Dawn Chorus is one of the noisiest of nature's great spectacles.
Many people may have heard the birds singing early in a morning, some may even have been woken up by them, but how many people have paid full attention to the range of birds involved. In the spring you can hear all the UK’s native birds at full volume. Blue tit, Blackbird, Robin, Wren… and then there are the migrants Whitethroat, Willow warbler and Chiff chaff.
And it's not just at dawn that you can hear birdsong. Birds sing at different times of the day, the nightingale for example is most vocal at dusk and the skylark really gets going when the sun shines.
The Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos) is a rather plain, brown bird slightly bigger than a Robin. But its famous song is impressive and few other birds can match it. It’s a migrant and in the UK is mostly found in the South East of England where it sings most heartily from April to July. Nightingales can sing at nearly 100dB - that's as loud as putting your ear next to a motorcycle exhaust or a truck going past. The human ear can cope with 85dB so if you're exposed to loud Nightingales for long enough, you could go deaf!
The Skylark (Alauda arvensis) is a small brown bird between the size of a Sparrow and a Starling. It’s a streaked brown colour and has a small crest on its head which it raises if it’s excited or alarmed. Its song is loud and is most often heard as the bird makes its characteristic vertical flight into the air. Although numbers have declined in recent years it can be seen on farmland and moorland across the UK.
The Blackbird (Turdus merula) is resident in the UK all year round but while the male lives up to his name the female is actually brown. It’s one of the commonest UK birds.
The Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) is a familiar visitor to almost any garden with a peanut bird feeder.
The Robin (Erithacus rubecula), the red-breasted bird so beloved of Christmas card designers. They sing all year round and despite their cheery appearance are very territorial and will quickly see off any intruders.
The Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes) is a tiny brown bird which a short tail which often sticks up vertically…and considering its size the wren has a very loud voice.
The Whitethroat (Sylvia communis) with its long tail that flicks as the bird darts in and out of cover, is a summer visitor and can be seen in the countryside across most of the UK.
The Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus) and the Chiff Chaff (Phylloscopus collybita) are small birds from the same family. The Willow Warbler has a grey-green back and light underparts, which the Chiff Chaff has and olive-brown back and light underparts. The main way to distinguish between the two is by their song. The Chiff Chaff has its distinctive chiff chaff, chiff chaff, chiff chaff while the Willow Warblers song is described as a melodic, gentle, descending lilt.
Find out more...
BBC Science and Nature – an audio journey through the dawn chorus
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Chris Packham lies down in a field to fully appreciate the joys of seeing and hearing a skylark:
Hear the BBC Breathing Places pocket guide to the Dawn Chorus with Chris Packham:
Or you can download the guide from the BBC Breathing Places website.
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Birdsong can be heard pretty much everywhere, from the sound of starlings roosting in our cities to the skylark on farmland and moorland. A local park may provide a varied dawn chorus, and you shouldn’t disregard birds whose ‘voices’ may not be regarded as pretty. The sound of hundreds of rooks at a roost is impressive.
At the seaside there are the Black-Headed Gulls with their short kik, keeya and longer kyowww calls, and the Kittiwake’s high mewing notes and kit-i-ya-wake.
And open moorland is far from silent, in the North Pennines, for example, you’ll hear the peee-wit of the lapwing, the curlew’s ‘cour-eee’ and bubbling trill and the near squawking ‘kor-ork, -ok, -ok’ of the pheasant.
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