Bird Songs in April
Open your windows from around 4:30 am and you’ll probably be hearing the sounds of spring and summer. The birds are up early and the dawn chorus is beginning to get towards its crescendo, we are a month or so away from the big bang. The April dawn chorus may be a tuneful wake-up call for us, but it’s a serious business for garden birds. Male birds are using their songs right now to stake out their territories and keep their newfound females interested. Male garden birds barely have time to yawn before they have to start singing in the dawn chorus.
It’s an important chore that has to be done. A male bird can’t take time out or have a break from it. It’s own legacy and value lives or dies by his songs every day.
The dawn chorus is one of those natural phenomena that lap at the doorstep, and yet is rarely heard and appreciated in its fullness. In theory, it’s easy to rise in the pre-dawn darkness and hear a procession of birds singing over an hour or so – blackbirds and robins at first, using their large, light-sensitive eyes, then woodpigeons, great tits, dunnocks and wrens. But few people bother. Sure, they hear sound from their beds, and might even curse the birds for their early morning impertinence, but they seldom get up to listen.
It’s a pity more people don’t get involved and enjoy what is one of nature’s amazing gifts. It can be something that feels overwhelming even in your garden; at it’s peak the dawn chorus can be a pretty impactful thing for the hairs on the back of your neck.
Why do birds sing at dawn?
There have been lots of theories around why birds choose dawn as their singing time. Lots of scientists believe it is because sound, for various atmospheric reasons, travels better at dawn than later in the day, and so it’s a good time to make a public statement, certainly better than competing with the mid-morning backdrop of suburban traffic, radios and lawnmowers.
Dawn is also not the best time for birds to feed. The half light makes searching difficult, and the normal insect prey is inactive in the relative cold. And so, if there’s nothing better to do, why not sing, and remind your neighbours that you’re there?
Infidelity in Birds
The garden, a beautiful spring like place for us, is a constant hotbed of infidelity for our garden birds. Many bird relationships are constantly strained by infidelity and by threatened infidelity.
House sparrows, swallows, starlings and blue tits, for example, go behind their mate’s back at the drop of a hat and indulge in extra-pair copulation, simply because, in a male’s case, it is an easy way to increase his reproductive output, and in a female’s case, it’s a way to obtain the best genetic material.
Eggs all round
Lots of birds spend this time egg-dumping. Starlings in particular are known for their cuckoo ways. They quite happily leave their extra eggs in other nests for neighbours to raise.
A female, having laid her normal clutch of four to six eggs, enters another starling’s nest while the owners are elsewhere and lays an egg, cuckoo-like, among the latter’s brood. The neighbour becomes the unknowing foster-parent and the female has increased her productivity. In starlings, all kinds of relationships are unstable and movable.