Fersiwn Gymraeg ar gael yma
“Little darling, I feel that ice is slowly melting” sang George Harrison on ‘Here Comes the Sun’, his much-loved celebration of the beginning of spring. After a frosty winter, for several species of birds, the ice is most certainly beginning to melt. The arrival of spring will bring about many a change in species’ behaviour, often related with the beginning of the breeding season. Some birds such as the blackbird or the robin will sing festively throughout the winter months to themselves – this is often referred to as ‘sub-song’. But come springtime, many birds will join in what is knows as the ‘dawn chorus’, where our feathered friends will sing their hearts out in the hope of attracting a mate.
As its name suggests, the dawn chorus will begin at first light, with birds trying to grasp the earliest possible opportunity to attract a mate. As the morning goes on, many more birds will join in the dawn chorus, to a point where it becomes very hard to decipher individual voices. Due to this, the term ’early bird catches the worm’ most certainly applies to breeding as well – by singing early, there is a greater chance of the female to hear the singing male’s voice. It is worth noting that singing is not only an exercise of finding a mate – it is also a necessary act to balance the amounts of fat stored in their bodies after a winter of building and storing fats. Birds restock their reserves by eating, but by singing, birds will burn fats. Therefore, if a bird can sing loudly for a long amount of time whilst also maintaining a healthy level of fat, then it shows to a potential suitor that they are a healthy and strong bird who would make a good fit as a mate. What makes the dawn chorus so special is the variation of voices that are to be heard. A favourite of ours here at RSPB Cymru is the lovely bittern – the male’s booming call is as unique as they come and can be heard echoing over RSPB Cors Ddyga on Anglesey during the spring months.
The process of mating at the early stages of spring does not only involve singing for some. Despite their name and romantic reputation, mute swans are not the silent type - their way of finding their lifetime partner is a noisy affair, with a courtship ‘dance’, full of hissing and grunting! Another well-known courtship dance occurs between great crested grebes, who will undertake a series of dances, flicking their heads from side to side and skimming the water surface. Then, as a grand finale, come the weeds! Both birds will scoop up water plants in their beaks, positioned chest-to-chest, while flapping water ferociously. Some birds prefer not to make such a song and dance of things and leave it to the flying – the mysterious nightjar is a prime example of this. To attract his potential suitor during the courtship period, the male will clap his wings a fly with slow wingbeats alternating with glides on raised wings, when the white patches on his plumage are shown off. Hen harriers will also perform a few wonderful aerobatic displays when attempting to attract a female, flipping, looping and darting spectacularly. Wherever you live – be it a rural or urban area – you’ll be sure to hear an increase in birdsong due to the dawn chorus. Why not go for an adventure to one of our beautiful reserves and see if you can hear some new to you, or spot a dance or special flight?
Whatever fascinating spring behaviour you witness this season – be sure to let us know by tweeting @RSPBCymru
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