The dawn chorus – all you need to know about nature’s big show

The arrival of spring sees the peak of one of the UK’s great nature experiences – the dawn chorus. But why does it happen, what birds take part and what are our top tips for getting front-row seats at nature’s festival of sound?

5 min read
A Skylark in silhouette, it is sitting in a fence post at dawn.
On this page

What is the dawn chorus?

The dawn chorus is the symphony of song performed by birds looking for love, and to defend their patch. In spring, as the days lengthen, wildlife starts to think about the need to breed. For many male birds, this means belting out the well-worn but wonderful classics to try and attract females. Think of it as Britain’s Got Talent without the jugglers. The males want to show off to females, but also to let other males know they’re top bird and that others should back off the mic.  

Some species sing throughout the day, but it’s at dawn, as the morning light begins to break, that many different birds join together to perform.

When’s the best time of year to hear the dawn chorus? 

In short, mid-March to early May. But some birds are keener to get the party started than others. If you get a bright sunny morning in late January, you might hear the Song Thrush or Great Tit warming up for the big show, joining Robins who sing all year. Like many species, they need time to get into their rhythm, with their song building in quality and intensity as spring fully kicks in.  

By mid-March lots of our resident birds are in full song and in mid-April, the riot of sound is in full effect as millions of migrant birds pour back in from Africa to their summer homes. In early May the chorus is at its peak, but it can be heard in some form into early summer.


What birds take part? 

Song Thrushes, Blackbirds and Robins are among the first to rise, starting things off when the air is still, and the lights are low. Popular songsters like Wrens and warblers, such as Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and Willow Warblers then gradually join in. As do Wood Pigeons. Anyone living near them will know they like to join in, for hours on end, often forming a repetitive double act with Collared Doves.  

What species you hear will of course depend on where you are. if you’re near water, wading birds will add their rich and varied songs and calls to the chorus. If you’re near heathland, you might hear the joyful fluid song of Linnets or the famous call of the Cuckoo.

A Song Thrush singing from a tree.

Why do birds sing in the morning? 

Well, the dim light isn’t a good time to go looking for food like seeds and insects. And singing gives away your location, so it’s best to do it when the light is lower. But one of the main reasons is it’s quieter then and the air is usually still. Birdsong has been shown to carry 20 times further at dawn, making all that effort to attract a mate much more worthwhile.  

For the males, it’s also a reminder to their rivals that they survived the night and they’re in fine fettle, with the strength, skills and stamina to sing. Many summer visitors arrive at night, increasing the competition. So the birds already here sing their hearts out first thing to let the new arrivals know who’s boss.  

A Skylark in full song, perched on top of foliage.

Our top tips on how to get the full dawn chorus experience:

  1. The dawn chorus can be heard in some form or another almost everywhere - from gardens, parks, hedges and woods to marshes and even mountain tops. If you want, just open your bedroom window, lie back and enjoy the songsters near you. But for the full effect, a wooded area or park with mature trees are great bets.   
  1. Set your alarm clock. In the UK the dawn chorus is at its peak just before and just after sunrise, so ideally you would be sitting still with a cup of something warm around 5am. By around 6:30am it’s already peaked, but don’t worry, there are still plenty of birds singing then if you fancy a few more minutes in bed.  
  1. Check the weather. Still, dry mornings are the best to hear the chorus in all its glory.  
  1. Wrap up warm, even in May it can still be chilly before the sun rises.  
  1. If it’s your first dawn chorus experience, just sit back and let the symphony of sound wash over you. It really is one of the UK’s great nature experiences. 
  1. A walk with a guide is also a great idea to get the most from the experience – check out some of the events at RSPB reserves.
  1. If you’re not an early riser, many species also sing on an evening, as dusk falls. It’s not quite as spectacular as the morning chorus, but still well worth a listen.  
A person walking near trees on a misty dawn morning.

National Dawn Chorus Day 

Whether it’s Skylarks, Blackcaps, Nightingales or Robins, the UK’s birdsong spectacular reaches its crescendo in early May just in time for National Dawn Chorus Day. This is held on the first Sunday in May each year, which falls on 5 May in 2024. 

Whether you're sat in your PJs with a cuppa next to an open window or in the middle of an ancient wood with your flask and big coat, it’s a great opportunity to sit back and listen to one of our truly great nature experiences and then share your experience with others. Don’t forget to tag us on your favourite social media! 

RSPB Events 
RSPB reserves are some of the best places in the UK to hear the dawn chorus in full effect. Why not join us at one of our events

A Wren in silhouette, singing at dawn.
Share this article