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Tony Juniper: The Dawn Chorus

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Mental health and wellbeing

Chair Tony Juniper is rallying the nation to connect with nature this Easter weekend by tuning into one of nature’s most special phenomena: the dawn chorus.

It is at this time of year that Nature presents one of her most special phenomena - the dawn chorus. About an hour before Sunrise, songbirds begin to proclaim their presence. Where we live in central Cambridge it is generally a song thrush that begins. The strident whistles and chirps of the virtuoso songster drive through the darkness, connecting with others further away, who in turn reply.

As the first glimmer of light appears in the east, the symphony is joined by the melodious fluting song of blackbirds. There are more of them around us and as they take centre stage in the rising chorus, so more of them join in.

Window open, I lay half-awake in bed, listening to the concentric layers of song that on quiet windless mornings drift in from far away. Loudest are the blackbirds on the nearby trees and rooftops. Birds replying are clearly audible too, and so are others replying to them. Listening hard I reckon I can hear four or five rings of blackbirds. The thinner cascading song of robins helps to fill the mix, as do the superfast trilling repertoires of wrens, the staccato voices of dunnocks and the rising and falling double notes of great tits.

A robin perched on a tree.

Blackcaps, some newly arrived from Southern Europe and Africa, add their fluid tunes, while the deep soothing songs of wood pigeons add different tones to the mix.  Harbingers of the summer and a time when the other birds will be quieter, a portent of the longer and warmer days to come.

The mix of birds varies according to place, with more or less variety of singers. In most places it is possible to enjoy this incredible annual manifestation of vibrant life in some form or other, right next to where we live, and including in the heart of our biggest cities.

I have found this wonderful celebration of life all the more important during this time of lockdown, when it has become necessary to enjoy and appreciate the everyday things right where we live. And the dawn chorus is not only something that can be appreciated in bed, it can also be enjoyed from the garden or in the local park, if you are out first thing exercising or walking the dog. Now seems an especially good time to connect with this annual natural wonder, when our birds have less competition from the roar of planes and traffic.

This time of the year sunrise is at about 6:30am, so from about 5:30am, or a little earlier, is a good time to tune into the birds around where you live. There is no need to feel daunted by the mix of sounds and trying to work out what they all are, although that is something that can soon be worked out. Plenty of websites have recordings of our birds, so any mystery voices should be identifiable, if you are so inclined.

It is, however, the fact of being absorbed into the sound that can reach deep into mind and soul, connecting us into the endless cycles of Nature that in the end sustain all life. Tuning into the continuity of the natural world can bring great comfort and calm, and at a troubled time like this all the more so.

The daily morning chorus of bird song is to this extent a reminder that as the world turns, so new cycles will come, including the turns that will eventually take us to the dawn of the world that lies beyond the crisis of today.

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  1. Comment by Marcus Knight posted on

    Dear Tony,

    what are your thoughts re the weekly public clapping for key service workers? here in Plymouth we have been noticing the bird wildlife - blackbirds, wrens, swallows and crows getting ready to breed.

    Last night at 8pm we winessed from our vantage point in the park the clapping and cheering across the city which was great. However, it seems to have become the habit for several people to let off fireworks. We could see that this really freaked out the birds.

    Isn't this having a detrimental effect to them during their breeding season? Perhaps you could ask the goverment to guide the public not to use fireworks?