Spring is firmly here, and with it comes the sound of bird song to signal each new day. RSPB England’s, Oriole Wagstaff delves into the magic of the dawn chorus and how you can get involved.

What is the dawn chorus?

From March to July, as each new day dawns many birds start singing. Although birds can sing at any time of day, it’s at dawn around this time of year that birds sing louder, livelier, and more often. This is the dawn chorus. It’s a magical orchestra of bird song, starting as early as  4am and can even last several hours.

 As the arrival of spring kicks off the breeding season for many birds, they sing in the dawn chorus to defend their territories and to attract a mate.


Wet grass at sunrise. Credit: Katie Nethercoat

 Doorstep dawn chorus

Why not start the day differently by tuning in to the dawn chorus without even leaving your home? Set your alarm, open a window, grab a cuppa and listen out as the birds perform. Whether you’re in a city or the midst of the countryside songbirds can be heard all across the country.

The opening act is performed by the robin, with its wide collection of songs it slides gently between quick and slow, soft and loud, and then chirping a quick sharp ‘tic’ sound. Soon the blackbird joins in, with flute-like tunes learned from other blackbirds, as well as a range of other copied sounds including anything from a human’s whistle to even a reversing lorry!  Song thrushes, if around, take up the leading part as the loudest singers, and as the sky gets lighter, the familiar variety of ‘coos’ from members of the pigeon join the harmony. Great tit bird song often follows with the backing of dunnocks. Late to join the party, perhaps because of their preference for warmer temperatures, is the wren and house sparrow.

Adult male robin singing in tree. Credit: Ben Andrew.

And dawn isn’t the only time when birds take to the stage, often throughout spring and summer there is another performance at dusk- known as the dusk chorus. Generally quieter than the dawn performance, some birds like blue tits are often easier to hear singing at this time, listen out for a high sound followed by a longer lower pitch one in a sort of ‘sispi si-hi-hi-hi-hi’ song.

The best days to listen out for this magical symphony is when the weather is clear, with little wind.

To learn exactly what birdsong to listen out for, or to discover which ones you have heard, check our bird song audio guide.

 Dawn chorus on reserves

International Dawn Chorus Day started in the ‘80s as a small event in Birmingham, and today it is celebrated all over the world on the first weekend in May. This year we’re bringing the dawn chorus to you by streaming the natural symphony straight from our reserves, to celebrate International Dawn Chorus Day. Join us live on Sunday 2 May here.

 If you are lucky you might get to hear the brilliant ‘boom’ of a bittern from RSPB Ham Wall in Somerset or RSPB Leighton Moss in Lancashire. Nightjars might be heard adding their unusual ‘churring’ song to the performance at RSPB Pulborough Brooks in West Sussex, and you can even hear a rare nightingale take part in the dusk chorus. Or listen out for warblers which can be heard bringing the symphony alive at RSPB Minsmere in Suffolk- why not check out our Notes on Nature TV guide to warblers to discover the wonders of warblers.

Why not head to our events page to discover a dawn chorus event near you. To find out which songsters are starring at an RSPB reserve near you, along with the latest facilities open, check out our reserves update page.

Reed warbler, adult male singing in reedbed. Credit: Ben Andrew

Get involved

  • Take part

Join the magic of Dawn Chorus 2021 here or if you aren’t an early bird yourself why not discover your next nature-themed family activity with our signs of spring wild challenge.

  • Shop for nature

Celebrate spring by getting know the wildlife you can hear from your window or local greenspace with our RSPB Guide to Birdsong. Looking for a musical and nature themed gift (go on it’s dawn chorus!)? Why not consider one of our singing cuddly toys? Or if you haven’t got enough of bird song why not invest in our best-selling birdsong clock with authentic birdsongs. All available from our online shop and in-store on several reserves.

  • Take action for nature

In May, we’ll have our chance to demand that nature and greenspace is prioritised in the local Mayoral elections. Speak up for nature and wildlife by writing to your candidates today.

We’re more aware of nature than ever before, but the crisis facing nature is huge. Find out how else you can make a difference here.