Which do you prefer, the singer or the song? Time to celebrate International Dawn Chorus Day

You know it’s spring when the dawn chorus calls. Find out more about which early bird sings which song.

Many of us may know that cats, dogs and other domestic animals make different noises depending on where they live, and the language that is spoken there: so cats in mainly English-speaking countries generally say “meow”, while in Japan, they say “nyaa nyaa”; and while dogs generally “woof” or “bow wow” in English, in Polish they say “hau hau”.

Scientists have also found that many animals have different accents depending on where they live and the main language spoken there, but did you know the same applies to birds?

While at a distance it sounds like music, birdsong also allows our feathered friends to communicate with each other, finding mates and defending their territories. I still remember visiting a shopping centre planted with pear trees where I swear the resident birds were excitedly telling each other that the fruit was ready to eat; and a relative firmly believes to this day that a regular bird visitor to her garden laughed long and loud when he realised he had finally found a tree branch too high for the local cat to reach.

Some of our most popular birds, according to their songs and calls, are: nightingale; robin; cuckoo.

Now that spring is well underway in the northern hemisphere, and we’re readjusting to daylight savings time, the dawn chorus is one of the ways we know it’s morning. Robins and great tits usually start singing very early in the year, as early as March, to be joined by visitors like blackcaps and chiffchaffs.

Robins are also amongst the first birds to wake up each morning, usually followed by blackbirds, skylarks and song thrushes – although numbers for this last bird are on the decline. Some smaller birds, like wrens, don’t join the party until the day is a little more advanced, when the insects they like are out and about. There are also some birds who call out very rarely, notably birds of prey like sparrowhawks, which you are surprisingly likely to see in your garden; and there are other birds, like nightingales, who prefer to sing in the evening.

Every year the first Sunday of May, traditionally, is the date for the International Dawn Chorus Day: local walks and other events are often arranged. In 2019 the day falls on 5 May. If you’d like help identifying those bird calls and marrying them up with images of the birds who make them, head over to Birdvoice at http://www.birdvoice.net.

Abe, N. (2018), Animal Sounds in Japanese, thoughtco.com, 8 October 2018, https://www.thoughtco.com/animal-sounds-in-japanese-4070963, (accessed 30 April 2019)
Boswall, J. The Top 10 British birdsongs, British Library, https://www.bl.uk/the-language-of-birds/articles/the-top-10-british-birdsongs (accessed 30 April 2019)
International Dawn Chorus Day, Songbird Survival, https://www.songbird-survival.org.uk/international-dawn-chorus-day (accessed 30 April 2019)
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (2019), https://www.rspb.org.uk (accessed 30 April 2019)