NATURE NOTES - Who’s singing the dawn chorus?

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The nightingale has a lyre of gold, The lark’s is a clarion call, And the blackbird plays but a boxwood flute, But I love him best of all. For his song is all of the joy of life, And we in the mad, spring weather, We two have listened till he sang Our hearts and lips together.

Just about sums it up! Only thing missing is that the ‘boxwood flute’ is starting his solo around 5am and it becomes the signal for all and sundry to start the dawn chorus! The dawn chorus occurs because as winter retreats, male songbirds sing to attract potential females, protect their territory and to warn off other males. However, as soon as it is light enough to look for food, the dawn chorus comes to a close which is why you have to be an ‘early bird’ to hear it.

Throughout the UK, people with gardens that attract birds are often woken up early, just after 4am, to the sound of the dawn chorus from their bedroom window.

Did you know that bird songs carry much better around dawn and dusk because there is less wind at those times of day, not only is there tranquillity, there is also much less background noise (natural and man-made). For these two reasons a typical bird song, it has been calculated, will carry 20 times as well as at noon.

There is also a dusk chorus. The dusk-chorus is a lesser event but there is a very noticeable increase in song each evening in spring, in our garden at least the song thrush seems to be particularly defensive at this time of day.

The blackbird also flexes his gob muscles around this time of day and sometimes carries on till well after nightfall.

Other night-time choristers that sing in our garden include wren, robin, mistle thrush and dunnock.

One of the choristers that is adding the drums is a great spotted woodpecker that has took up residence on a lime tree just outside our bedroom window and gives it ‘what for’ as soon as he wakes – a sort of Keith Moon of the bird world if you are old enough to remember WHO that was!

Both sexes in fact drum, usually starting in January and continuing until late June. The Great Spotted Woodpecker is the most common woodpecker in Britain.

In parts of the country, here in Wigan included, great spotted woodpeckers regularly attack wooden nest-boxes. The eggs and more commonly the young of blue tits, great tits, coal tits and nuthatches have all become victims.

The woodpeckers gain access to the nest either by enlarging the box entrance or by drilling through the side of the box on a level with the contents.

It’s a really easy bird to recognize due to its distinctive drumming and call, and also by its colours and ‘bouncy’ flight.

The plumage is striking black and white with bright red under the tail. Males have a distinctive red patch on top of the head and young birds have a red crown.