The Birds Of The Dawn Chorus

Follow Us On Social Media:

Facebook: www.facebook.com/rtenature

Twitter: @naturerte

Caring For Wild Animals

Please note that many species of mammals, birds, invertebrates etc... are protected under law and that, even with the best of intentions, only someone holding a relevant licence from the National Parks & Wildlife Service should attempt the care of these animals.  For full details, please click here to read the NPWS Checklist of protected & rare species in Ireland.  If you are concerned about a wild animal, please contact your local wildlife ranger - click here for details.

Blackbird

Irish Name: Lon Dubh
Latin Name: Turdus merula
Length: 24 - 25cm

Blackbird - Photo by Ken Kinsella

Blackbird (photo by Ken Kinsella)

The Blackbird is very common in Ireland. The male is all black with a bright orange beak and eye ring. The female is all dark brown. It is a ground feeding bird often seen rooting up leaf litter looking for grubs and worms. The nest is usually built in the middle of dense undergrowth or bushes. It will usually sing from an exposed perch and like its cousin the Song Thrush can sometimes be seen singing from Chimney tops and television aerials. The song is loud with short bursts of song lasting up to five seconds followed by a short break and then another burst of song. The study of the song of the Blackbird has led researchers to believe that they were originally forest birds because the relatively low notes travel well through woodland. It is best heard at dawn or dusk between February and July.

Rook

Irish Name: Préachán or Rúcach
Latin Name: Corvus frugilegus
Length: 33cm

Rook (photo by Terry Flanagan)

Rook (photo by Terry Flanagan)

A large black bird which nests in tall trees such as Scots Pines or Beech. Identified from other crows by the power white base to the beak and feathers on the legs like shaggy trousers. They nest in large groups called rookeries. These are very noisy places during the breeding season and add a great background drone to a dawn chorus. As with most birds that nest in colonies its song is not well developed and because it is so unmelodic a bad singer is often referred to as "singing like a crow". Rooks can pair for life and often stay together all year round. Over half a million pairs breed in Ireland each year. It can be heard at its rookery from the beginning of February when last years nests are repaired and the noise of birds fighting over twigs can be heard. Because it usually nests in tall trees its sounds can be heard far away. When the young hatch in April or May the noise increases as young birds join the chorus begging for food.

Robin

Irish Name: Spideog
Latin Name: Erirthacus rubecula
Length:14 cms

Robin (photo by Michael Finn)

Robin (photo by Michael Finn)

Well known from Christmas cards, the Robin is familiar to all. Also related to the Blackbird and Song Thrush the Robin is found in more gardens in Ireland that any other bird. It feeds on a wide variety of insects and worms as well as scraps and food left out by people. Its nest is built in a wide variety of locations ranging from Ivy covered walls to the inside of an old teapot! They usually sing from the top or edge of bushes and also posts at the edge of their territory. They can be heard singing almost all year round. During late autumn and winter the song is often much quieter that during the breeding season. In suburban areas streetlights often trigger Robins to sing at night. This is not a rare occurrence.

Wren

Irish Name: Dreoilín
Latin Name:Troglodytes troglodytes
Length: 9cm

Wren (photo by John Fox)

Wren (photo by John Fox)      

The wren is one of our smallest birds and features in many old Irish myths and stories. They are insect eaters and their long thin, slightly curved beak is well suited to rooting out small insects. It often sings with its stiff tail held almost vertically in the air. It builds a ball shaped nest with an entrance hole on the side in dense undergrowth. Its Latin name means cave dweller and comes from its "cave" like nest and its habit of rarely coming out of the undergrowth. It will sometimes nest in a nest box. It may be one of our smallest birds but it is also one of the loudest. Not always the first to start singing in the dawn chorus but once is does it often drowns out everything else singing nearby. When it sings for the top of a low bush it often moves its cocked tail mechanically from side to side.

Song Thrush

Irish Name:Smólach
Latin Name: Turdus philomelos
Length: 23cm

Song Thrush (photo by John Fox)

Song Thrush (photo by John Fox)      

This handsome bird is brown above and cream coloured below with dark spots and chevrons. Like other members of the thrush family the Song Thrush eats worms, grubs and insects. It can often be seen on large close cut lawns looking for grubs and worms on or near the surface. It also like snails which it smashes open on a favourite stone often referred to as an anvil. The nest is cup shaped and usually built in large bushes. With the word song in its name it is no wonder that it is one of Ireland's most melodic singers. Like the Blackbird it sings from prominent perches. The song is loud and it will often repeat musical phrases up to five times, unlike the Blackbird, which rarely repeat any part of its song. The song will often last from many minutes at a time with only short breaks between phrases.  

Dunnock

Irish Name: Bráthair an Dreoilín
Latin Name:Prunella modularis
Length: 14cm

Dunnock (photo by Dick Coombes)

Dunnock (photo by Dick Coombes)      

The Dunnock is a small brown bird with a short thin beak. It has red or brown eyes, dark streaks on a brown back and dark grey below. Sometimes called the Hedge Sparrow probably because of its general resemblance to the House Sparrow even though it is no relation. A very shy bird,it will feed in, under or near bushes. They are usually insect eaters but will also take other food and will sometime come to bird tables in winter. It nests in dense undergrowth. Its song is a bit like that of a Wren though not quite as loud. It will sing almost all year round but like most other songbirds is most vocal before and during the breeding season.  

Chaffinch

Irish Name: Rí Rua
Latin Name: Fringilla coelebs
Length: 16cms

Chaffinch (male) (photo by Michael Finn)

Chaffinch (male) (photo by Michael Finn)

The Chaffinch is one of the most common members of the finch family in Ireland. The male is very colourful, bright pink/orange below and blue/grey around the head. The female is duller. It eats seeds during the autumn and winter and turn to insects, caterpillars and grubs during the breeding season. It nests in bushes and hedges. The male sings from a prominent perch usually at the side or top of a large bush or tree. Once you learn its song, which only lasts a couple of seconds before being repeated, you will easily locate one. It does not usually sing after the breeding season.  

Pheasant

Irish Name: Coilleach Coille
Latin Name: Phasianus colchicus
Length: 50 - 90cm

Pheasant (male) (Ronnie Martin)

Pheasant (male) (Ronnie Martin)      

The Pheasant was brought to Ireland at the end of the 16th. Century. Originally from Eastern Europe and Asia it is now a familiar sight in the Irish countryside. The male is very brightly coloured with a greenish head a red face patches and a long tail while. The female is duller brown with a shorter tail. They nest on the ground or occasionally on low bushes. In a dawn chorus competition it would not win a prize for its singing ability. Its "song" is a very loud single rasping note, sometimes repeated a few times if disturbed when the whir of its wings can also be heard. Once you hear this call is it unmistakable.  

Sedge Warbler

Irish Name: Ceolaire Cíbe
Latin Name: Acrocephalus schoenobaenus
Length: 13cm

Sedge Warbler (photo by Colum Clarke)

Sedge Warbler (photo by Colum Clarke)

The Sedge Warbler is a summer visitor to Ireland and is "the" sound of a reed bed in summer. A small pale brown bird with a dark crown. It winters in Africa, south of the Sahara Desert and returns to Ireland in March and April. It nests mainly in reed beds, bogs and around lakes. It is an insect eater and is rarely seen far from fresh water. It is known to mimic other birds and mixes these "robbed" sounds with it's own chatter which can go on for over a minute. They will often sing from the top of a reed or nearby bush, sometimes in flight. When you hear it for the first time it can sound like a number of birds singing together. Once it has found a mate it usually stops singing while unpaired birds will continue to sing will into July. It returns to Africa in August and early September.

Blue Tit

Irish Name: Meantán Gorm
Latin Name: Parus caeruleus
Length: 12 cm

Blue Tit (photo by Clive Timmons)

Blue Tit (photo by Clive Timmons)      

The Blue Tit should be very familiar to those who feed birds during the winter. It regularly visits bird tables and peanut feeders. If you have a peanut feeder out all year round it will sometimes bring its young to the feeder in August or September. The male and female are very similar in appearance. Its best identification feature is its blue cap surrounded by a thin white halo. It nests in crevices and wall cavities and will raise as many as eight young every year. During the breeding season it hunts for insects and caterpillars and rarely stays in the one place for very long. If you have put up a nest box with a small entrance hole in it the Blue Tit will probably become your most frequent tenant. When defending its territory it will sing and call very noisily, usually from the top of a tree or bush.

Chiffchaff

Irish Name: Tiuf-teaf
Latin Name: Phylloscopus collybita
Length: 11 cm

Chiffchaff (photo by David Dillon)

Chiffchaff (photo by David Dillon)      

This bird is a long distant migrant, which, like the Swallow spends the winter in Africa south of the Sahara. In recent years some have spent the winter in Ireland. It arrives in Ireland before the Swallow, usually in late March. It is a very small bird, smaller than a Robin, with not obvious plumage markings. The plumage is a combination of pale yellow, green and brown and is almost identical in appearance to its close relative the Willow Warbler. In fact the best way to identify it is by its song. It gets its name from its song which it a stuttering "Chiff-chiff-chaff-chiff-chaff…." that it usually sings from the top of trees. It is an insect eater and moves through the leaf canopy searching every leaf for food or occasionally flying out from its perch to catch a passing insect. It departs for Africa in August and September.  

Reed Bunting

Irish Name: Gealóg Dhucheannac
Latin Name: Emberiza schoeniclus
Length: 15 cm

Reed Bunting (male) (photo by Colum Clarke)

Reed Bunting (male) (photo by Colum Clarke)

The Reed Bunting gets its name from the fact that it regularly breeds in reed beds. It is usually never far from fresh water. It will also breed in low bushes and scrubland. It is an easy bird to recognise by its song once you hear it a few times. The male has a black head, white neck collar, white mustache and white outer tail feathers. The female is browner and sparrow like. Its song is virtually the same phrase repeated at regular intervals from low bushes and reed stems. When singing the male often throws its head back, pointing its beak to the sky and on a warm summers evening its song will travel far over the wetland where it breeds. Like many birds it feeds on insects in the summer but changes to a diet of seeds during the winter months. It can also wander far reed beds outside the breeding season.  

Skylark

Irish Name: Fuiseóg
Latin Name: Alauda arvensis
Length: 19 cm

Skylark (photo by Stephen McAvoy)

Skylark (photo by Stephen McAvoy)

The Skylark is one of our most celebrated songbirds. Its vibrant song has inspired traditional aires, poetry and songs. It is sandy brown in appearance with long legs, a short crest and white outer tail feathers. It is usually seen singing high in the air or running silently through long grass. It is a species that is fast disappearing from our countryside. Changes in farming practices in the 20th century has led to a very sharp decline in hay meadows, a favourite nesting place. There is an old saying, "up with the lark", referring to those of us who rise early in the morning. This saying comes from the fact the in the past, in open countryside, it was one of the first birds to sing in the morning and the air would be full of its long twittering song. It usually sings while flying ever higher in the air until it is almost out of sight before it drops gradually to the ground where it stops singing and disappears into the long grass.  

Greenfinch

Irish Name: Glasán Darach
Latin Name: Carduelis chloris
Length: 15 cm

Greenfinch (male) (Michael Finn)

Greenfinch (male) (Michael Finn)      

The Greenfinch should be familiar to those who feed birds in their gardens. It gets its name from the green colour of its plumage, more obvious in males than females or young birds. It also has yellow on the wings and tail. Greenfinches nest in loose colonies and the male can be heard singing, usually from the very top of a tree but also in flight when it flies on uncharacteristic slow, gliding wing beats. The song is very beautiful and can be long with a variety of sweet notes "churps "and "tweets". There is also a characteristic wheezing sound in the song. Sometimes it will sing only parts of the entire song and it will also just sing the wheezing sound repeatedly over and over. It nests in a variety of habitats and can sometimes be found nesting in large Yew or Leylandia trees in the grounds of old churches and graveyards.  

Woodpigeon

Irish Name: Colm Coille
Latin Name:Columba palumbus
Length: 41 cm

Woodpigeon (photo by John Fox)

Woodpigeon (photo by John Fox)      

With its short legs and fat looking body the Woodpigeon is one of the largest birds of Irish woodlands. Its large size, grey plumage with a white neck patch and large white crescents on the wings make it easy to identify. When looked at closely the grey plumage is iridescent give pink, green and blue tints to the feathers of the body and wings. It usually feeds on young leaves, flowers and seeds. It is the baritone of the dawn chorus. Its cooing song is phrased like "Take two John (brief pause) take two". It is often more vocal in the evening than in the morning. When displaying during courtship it flies upward in a broad arc then claps its wings together and glides down in another arc.  

Great Tit

Irish Name:Meantán Mór   
Latin Name: Parus major
Length: 14 cm

Great Tit (Michael Finn)

Great Tit (Michael Finn)      

A very colourful bird and largest of the Tit family. It also comes to peanut feeders and garden bird tables in the winter. The male and female are similar in appearance but the distinctive black line that runs down the centre of its underside is noticeably thicker on the male than on the female. So varied are its calls and songs that among bird watchers, it is often said that if you cannot identify the sound of a bird you cannot see then it must be a Great Tit. One song that is easily recognised sounds like a loud "Teacher-Teacher-Teacher-Teacher-Teacher!". It will use nestboxes. The hole has to be bigger than that for a Blue Tit. Sometimes if the hole is nearly large enough it will enlarge the hole by removing wood from around the edge with its strong beak.

Twitter

Facebook

Contact the Show

mooney@rte.ie

RTÉ is not responsible for the content of external websites

Presenter: Derek Mooney

Schedule

Ways to Listen

Radio
Mobile
Internet
Radio Player
Podcasts
TV