Birdsong Explained

This year's Dawn Chorus programme took place on Sunday, May 6th 2018, and was a roaring success!  All India Radio producer Monika Gulati sent us a pic of herself sporting our Dawn Chorus beanie!!

May Events

Well whilst our Dawn Chorus programme may have finished for another year, throughout May, events are still taking place around the country to celebrate the beautiful birdsong that our feathered friends provide.  For more information on these events, and on the annual Burren In Bloom festival that takes place from May 18th - 20th, visit our events listings page!  And if you have an event you'd like to let our listeners know about, e-mail

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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.

Birds usually sing to defend a breeding territory and attract a mate. Birds also make other sounds usually referred to as calls. These are made at any time of the year whereas songs are usually heard before and during the breeding season. Calls can be used to keep a feeding flock together like the calls of a flock of Long-tailed Tits moving along a hedgerow. Calls can also be used to warn of danger, such as the loud calls of a Blackbird when it is startled. Calls are usually short bursts of simple sounds.

Songs on the other hand are usually very complicated. Different species of birds have developed different songs. This enables different species to sing at the same time without confusing each other. Birds that nest in colonies or loose groups tend to have less complicated songs. Examples of this type of song would be Rooks or House Sparrows. Birds that defend a territory tend to have more elaborate songs.

Wren (photo by John Fox)

In a woodland different species sing at different levels. For example wrens usually sing from low bushes while Blackbirds will sing from the top of the tallest trees. This also helps each bird to be heard by others of the same species. If they all sung from the same height the songs would be harder to separate and there would be fierce competition for singing places!

Studies have shown that young birds learn how to sing the song of their own species though some will rob phrases from other species. The Starling is notorious for mimicking other birds and other sounds. They have been records mimicking car alarms and even a referee's whistle. Blackbirds and Sedge Warblers also "steal" phrases from other birds.

Chaffinch (male) (photo by Michael Finn)

Birds of the same species have been shown to have accents just like humans. Irish Chaffinches have a different accent to Scandinavian Chaffinches. The study of recordings of birds' songs have also shown that no two birds of the same species have exactly the same song. This is exactly the same as someone from China thinking that all Irish people sound the same.

Also, birds have to learn to sing, just like we learn to talk. Young birds practice during their first year and fine tune it from year to year.

The dawn chorus is just like an orchestra. The different species are like different instruments and when all sing together the sound is amazing.



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Presenter: Derek Mooney


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