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Singing for spring on International Dawn Chorus Day

Tim Scoones Tim Scoones | 11:14 UK time, Thursday, 29 April 2010

May 2 is International Dawn Chorus Day and what better way to enjoy spring than getting up early and experiencing nature's great sunrise symphony for yourself.

So why does it happen? If you're a male bird with a great bit of territory you want to keep rivals away and let the ladies know you're there. Nature's solution is for the boys to express themselves through song whilst the light levels are still too low to go foraging and the predators aren't out. Hence the dawn chorus.

At the start of May every year our friends at The Wildlife Trusts encourage us all to lend them our ears. At events around the country bird experts are on hand to help identify any of the birds you might hear. You can find out more about these events on the IDCD website or find events near you with BBC Breathing Places.

River view at Dawn © Matt Wiseman from the BBC Springwatch Flickr Group

It's an early start so to inspire you to set your alarm, here's why the Springwatch team love the dawn chorus.

Martin Hughes-Games has been listening out this very morning: "It's 5.20am and I've just come in from a heavenly half hour standing in the churchyard soaking up an epic dawn chorus. What a beautiful, uplifting, and calming experience. Perfect. The world seems a much better place now. Think I'll make another cup of tea and go back out for a second dose."

Researcher Ruth stays close to home: "My absolute favourite place to hear the dawn chorus is my parents' garden in Portishead," she says. "It reminds me of when I was little and used to get up super early! It's not a big garden but you can literally hear all the local birds waking up and it feels like the place is coming to life."

She also enjoys going to the Wildfowl and Wetland Trusts' wetland centres when they open them up early for dawn chorus walks and wandering through any of her local woods in Somerset: "I always get a buzz of excitement when I hear a dawn chorus. I think it's something everyone should do at least once!"

BBC Natural History Unit producer and lifelong birder and naturalist Stephen Moss usually only hears the dawn chorus from the warmth and comfort of his bed: "But a few years ago, on a morning in May, my colleague Chris Watson visited my home in rural Somerset to record the birds. We were out by 4.30am, and the chorus began soon afterwards, with the blackbird kicking off as usual.

"At one point Chris let me listen through his headphones, and I was amazed to hear how truly complex the blackbird's song was. Instead of me just hearing the deep, fluty tones, I could also hear all sorts of soft, higher-pitched notes picked up by his microphone. A truly amazing experience which gave me a new insight into the complexity of bird song."

If their stories aren't enough to get you setting your alarm alarmingly early then have a look at these photos of dawn chorus star performers from the Springwatch Flickr group.

Robin singing © Lisa Cox from the BBC Springwatch Flickr Group

One of the first birds to get vocal during the dawn chorus, the robin is well adapted to life in poor light.

Singing thrush © Daz Moston from the BBC Springwatch Flickr Group

Chris Packham reveals that his favourite garden songster is the song thrush in an interview with BBC Breathing Places

Nightingale singing © Kevin Loader from the BBC Springwatch Flickr group

The Springwatch team are out filming nightingales at the moment. If you're in the South East now's the perfect time to listen out for them. Best of all, you don't need to get up early to hear them: they sing all night long.

If you want to know what you're listening out for, get started with Radio 4's bird song guide or download Chris's audio guide to the Dawn Chorus.

And if that's not enough, this week's episode of Radio 4's Saving Species also features a dawn chorus recording. Listen again to the whole show or just the birdsong on its own.

Where's your favourite place to listen to the dawn chorus? Do you have any favourite memories or stories of dawn bird song? We'd love to hear, so please post a comment below.


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