At this time of year we can enjoy one of nature’s miracles every morning: the finest sopranos, tenors and baritones warming up their voices for the greatest concert on earth - the dawn chorus.
Here’s the ‘who’s who’ in the choir so you can learn to identify the singers which make their homes on your patch!
Act one: robins and dunnocks
Act two: blackbirds, song thrushes and skylarks
Act three: chiffchaff, chaffinch, wood pigeon, and collared dove
Act four: blue tits, long tailed tit, great tit, goldcrest and tree sparrows
Dunnock: Credit John Bridges (rspb-images.com)
Dunnocks and robins are among the earliest to warm up: to hear the first act you’ll need to be in the stalls early as they start to sing about an hour before sunrise.
Blackbirds and song thrushes come hot their heels, probably because the ground is wetter in the morning so worms are more active and the ground is softer.
Finally, contributing to the crescendo, wrens, tits and warblers come in, with the tiny call of the goldcrest on the stage too. These later arrivals to the choral scene eat insects and are perhaps more sensitive to the coldness of dawn.
Goldcrest: Credit Tim Ryan
Unbeknown to many there is also an evening performance, with a chorus at dusk, but it’s much quieter, and it’s easier to hear birds like blue tits and tree sparrows. They sing in the morning too, but we are less likely to notice them among the cacophony!
The dawn chorus may sound like a frantic shouting match with the most beautiful voices but actually the singers know exactly when their slot is and if you listen regularly you will start to recognise certain species habitually starting before others.
If you don’t know what those species are now it’s your chance to learn even just a couple of them – it’s still the most melodic, clever, natural piece of audio entertainment you’ll hear and best of all, it happens every day!
The louder your dawn chorus the more proud you can be of your efforts to give nature a home too. If you’re providing food, water and shelter, it is bound to make their voices as strong as possible!
Birds sing so loudly at dawn because it’s not a good time to go foraging for food so they focus their efforts at the start of the day on trying to attract a mate instead, it is also a good time to hold a territory. With less background noise early on, their song can carry up to twenty times as far.
Singing is hard work, so it is usually the fittest, best fed males who sing the loudest. In many cases, once a female has been serenaded the male will sing less often as his work is done.
We can all provide a place for wildlife in your own garden and hear birds singing close up. To find out how you can give nature a home where you live visit: rspb.org.uk/homes
Our nature reserves are also great places to visit to hear the birds welcome the new day. Head to our reserve pages to find a haven for nature near you - http://www.rspb.org.uk/discoverandenjoynature/seenature/reserves/
Access to the lighthouse and platform at the Rathlin West Light Seabird Centre will vary over the coming weeks. This is a temporary measure due to staffing levels. We anticipate that access to all areas will be in place by the end of May. However there will be full access to all areas over the first May Bank Holiday weekend.In the meantime, a five day forecast of availability will be posted here. Please check before planning your trip or call the Seabird Centre on 028 2076 0062. We appreciate your understanding and apologise for any disappointment.
Five day forecast effective Thursday 28 April – Monday 2 May:
On Thursday 28th April access is not possible to the lighthouse. Visitors will still be able to enjoy the visitor centre and seabird viewing platform as usual 10am – 5pm. Admission is free for RSPB members and a 50% discount will be applied to admission for non-members (£2.50 for adults and £1.25 for children).
From Friday 29 April to Monday 2 May all aspects of the Rathlin West Light Seabird Centre, including the visitor centre, seabird viewing platform and lighthouse, are open as usual from 10am to 5pm with last admission at 4pm. Admission is free for RSPB members or £5 for adults/£2.50 for children.
This blog will next be updated on Friday 29 April with availability for Saturday 30 April – Wednesday 4 May.
Guest blog by Roisin Kearney, RSPB NI Assistant Conservation Officer.
Throughout the spring and summer months, birds are busy building nests and raising chicks. We receive many queries about nest disturbance, particularly where it concerns hedge cutting. The law around nest disturbance in Northern Ireland can be a complicated business, so here is a brief Q&A to bring you up to speed.
Where does the law stand?
Birds nesting in Northern Ireland are legally protected under the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 (as amended). Under this legislation, it is illegal to intentionally or recklessly take, damage or destroy an active nest or its contents.
Once the bird has finished using the nest it is considered inactive and can be removed if needs be, unless it is a Schedule A1 species – these nests are protected all year round. These include species such as Barn Owls, Peregrines and Red Kites.
Are there any exceptions to this?
Problem species such as pigeons and magpies – and their nests and young - can be controlled under a general licence for reasons including public safety, to prevent the spread of disease or to prevent damage to livestock or foodstuffs.
Nests within vegetation which is encroaching into a road or close to a powerline can be removed by the authorities where there is an overriding safety concern that could not have been addressed at a more appropriate time of the year.
Are there any other regulations around hedge cutting?
Farmers who participate in agri-environment schemes or who are in receipt of Less Favoured Area payments are not permitted to cut hedges between 1 March and 31 August. In order to receive this support, farmers must ensure that their land is managed in Good Agricultural and Environmental Condition (GAEC) and under this, hedge cutting, coppicing or laying during this period is not permitted except by prior written permission from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD).
What does the RSPB say?
The RSPB recommends that people avoid hedge and tree cutting between 1 March and 31 August in order to prevent any potential impact on breeding birds, and to help prevent people from breaking the law unknowingly.
What should I do if I witness nest disturbance?
If you feel comfortable, you can inform the people carrying out the work and provide them with this advice. If not, and you suspect that a crime has been committed, you should contact your local PSNI station immediately on 101. Explain that you believe a crime is taking place, contrary to the Wildlife (NI) Order, and make sure you include details of location, time, date, who you suspect is involved and any other information which could help the police (for example photos). Be sure to ask for the Police ‘Command and Control’ reference number for your records.