Get ready for the May dawn chorus

A sedge warbler singing. Pic Credit: Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)
A sedge warbler singing. Pic Credit: Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)
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Have you ever set the alarm extra early on a day in May so that you can take in the majestic dawn chorus?

If not, why not give it a go this year? writes Brian Campbell RSPB NI Communications and Events Officer

The dawn chorus is a phenomenal thing to take in.

Sunday, May 5, is this year’s International Dawn Chorus Day, but this natural spectacle is in full flow from late April to early June each year.

The best days to choose are those with fine, clear weather.

The dawn chorus peaks half-an-hour before to half-an-hour after sunrise, but it’s always a good idea to get into position a good hour before sunrise and enjoy the arrival of the performers as each takes their turn on stage.

So why do our feathered friends like to sing so early in the day?

There are a few reasons.

The poor light makes foraging for food difficult, so it’s a good time to be singing for a mate.

Sound can also carry further: as the air is often still at this time and, with less background noise, birdsong can carry up to 20 times as far.

As well as looking for a mate, birds sing to hold down a territory, so song is a way of staking ownership and telling other males to steer clear.

Technically, only the group of birds called ‘songbirds’ sing - warblers, thrushes, finches and so on.

What sets songbirds apart is that they actually learn, practice and perfect their songs, whereas the calls of other birds are hardwired into them from birth, and they don’t perfect them.

Starlings and goldfinches also like to sing as a group, while our beloved robins sing all winter - males and females - in order to defend feeding territories.

There should be a host of dawn chorus events taking place around Northern Ireland in early May.

We are having a guided RSPB NI ‘Lough Beg Dawn Chorus’ on Saturday, May 4, from 5-7.30am.

The meeting point is the O’Neill Arms Country House Hotel in Toome.

Lough Beg is home to birds including lapwings, snipe, sedge warblers (pictured) and redshanks, to name just a few.

The dawn chorus event will feature a woodland walk, so species including blackcaps and goldcrests should hopefully turn up.

It can often be quite ‘fresh’ so early in the morning, so thankfully there’ll be tea and coffee afterwards in the hotel.

To book this or any RSPB NI event, just telephone 028 9064 5630 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm).

Alternatively, you can email rspbnievents@rspb.org.uk.