Dawn Chorus Day is coming up on the 3rd of May, a day for celebrating spring, the arrival of many seasonal species and the beautiful song they bring us. It is also a reminder that we don’t want our nature to fall silent. 

In this blog, Elaine Bradley, our Nature Prescriptions Project Executive and a Mindfulness Teacher, and RSPB Scotland's Allie McGregor, discuss the potential health benefits of tuning into the dawn chorus. Elaine also shares how we can wake up mindfully with the dawn chorus.

Relaxing with the dawn chorus 

There is growing evidence that connecting with nature can support health and wellbeing. Spending time in nature has been shown to reduce anxiety and hypertension, improve cardiovascular health, increase concentration, life satisfaction and overall levels of happiness. While much of the nature that surrounds us is difficult to experience and enjoy fully at this time, one thing we can all do from the comfort of our own homes, is listen to the sounds of nature.


There are many nature sounds to tune into at springtime, such as the buzz of newly awakened bees, the patter of rain against a window or the rustling of fresh leaves or blossoms swaying in a spring breeze. Undoubtedly one of the most widely anticipated and enjoyed sounds of spring is the dawn chorus.


Tuning into the dawn chorus can help us feel connected to the world around us, remind us of the changing seasons and that we are not alone in our environment. Listening to bird song can also help reduce the effects of stress. Research suggests that the sounds of nature can calm the sympathetic nervous system, which is associated with fight or flight responses, and engage the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes relaxation and the chance for the body to recover and rest.

sparrow perched on edge of roof

“I personally really appreciate the way the dawn chorus helps me to take a moment and take a breath”, says Allie. “As someone who is often on the edge of panic, especially with the difficult times we are all experiencing, hearing the dawn chorus (or birdsong at any time of day) helps me ground myself. I also feel so delighted to hear twittering and singing and to search the trees, air and ground around me for the species leading the chorus. While I can’t make trips up the coast to see seabirds, or to the forest at Abernethy to spot a crested tit and a red squirrel, my appreciation for my local birds has grown and helped me to stay motivated to do all I can to protect our delightful dawn chorus singers.”

Listening to the dawn chorus doesn’t have to involve knowing or naming what we hear (or see). In fact, many health benefits can be gained from not focusing on knowing!  It can be helpful to let go of thinking chatter and problem solving for a while and just relax into the direct sensory experience of the natural world around us. We can simply tune in to the different songs as they arise, noticing and appreciating the different tones, uniqueness and richness of sounds. We can also notice how we are relating to what we hear, for example, how the body responds as we listen and how the experience makes us feel. Connecting in this way allows us to cultivate a deeper connection to the natural world, potentially increasing enjoyment and wellbeing, as well as reminding us that we are nature too!

robin singing on a branch

Here, Elaine offers an exploration of how to wake up mindfully with the dawn chorus:

  • Firstly take a moment to settle into a comfy space and position. You might be lying in bed, sitting by a window or perhaps in a garden or other outdoor space. However you choose to listen, allow time to find a relaxing posture. Feel the connection between your body and the surface you are sitting or lying on, feeling the support beneath you. What do you notice as you settle? Perhaps the warmth of a soft blanket or clothes or, if you are outside, the freshness of the morning air. Notice how you feel as the day begins - bring a friendly curiosity to whatever you notice in your experience.

  • Perhaps close your eyes and tune in to any sensations in your body. How does your body feel? If you notice any obvious areas of tightness in the body, you might find it helpful to take a couple of full deep breaths and as you exhale, soften any tension, as best you can. Perhaps relaxing the shoulders, softening the jaw or the hands. Spend a moment noticing and following the breath as it settles once again into its normal rhythm.

  • When you are ready, expand your attention from the breath and body to include the sounds around you. Tune in to any birdsong, near and far. Perhaps there are many songs to hear or just one or two. There’s no need to go searching for songs, let them come to you. What do you notice? Perhaps the songs are loud, soft, sharp or mellow. You might notice differences in length of notes, variety of pitch or repetition of phrases. There may be whistling calls, warbles, clicks, cheeps, or chatter.  You might also notice moments of silence between sounds. Allow yourself to become fully immersed in the changing landscape of songs and melodies as they fill the air.

  • As you listen, notice any response in your body. Perhaps the body feels energised or buzzy, perhaps there is a vibration or a flutter somewhere. You might notice pleasant sensations such as feelings of excitement, joy or a sense of relaxation. You might also notice unpleasant sensations related to feelings of irritation or boredom. Simply allow these to be there too. There may be different responses in different parts of the body. There’s no need to judge whatever you are experiencing in the moment, just continue to be curious about whatever arises and fades away.

  • If you find that your mind wanders off into thoughts, gently bring your attention back to the sounds. Let go of any effort and allow yourself to take in the full array of tunes, from all directions. Perhaps more birds layer into the chorus as you listen. Does the volume increase, fade or stay the same? Open your awareness to the changing symphony of sound, each moment a rare combination of melodies.

buttercups

  • Notice how you are relating to the different songs. Some calls might be familiar, others surprising. You might notice thoughts about liking or not liking particular tunes or perhaps judgements about a particular bird that you hear. If possible, let go of judgements for now and just notice each song as it arrives, each bird with its own unique voice.

  • You might tune into particular melodies that capture your attention. What do you find most interesting about that particular song? What engages you? Notice how you feel as you listen. Does listening affect your mood or your posture?

  • You might also pause for a moment and reflect on the life of the birds that you hear. What messages might they be sending out? What do they need? We can’t know for certain what life is like for these birds, however we can assume that they want to be safe, just like we do. They probably want to find food to eat, be healthy and protect their family, just as we do.

  • If your eyes are closed, you might open them and look to the source of the sounds. Where do you hear the bird song coming from? Trees, hedges, rooftops? What else do you see? Perhaps the changing dawn light, streams of sunbeams, people walking by, or clouds passing overhead. Pause for a moment and take in all the sights and sounds of the landscape around you, noticing the aliveness that is here.

  • Now gently bring the practice to a close. Bring your attention from the sounds and sights around you to the body once more. How do you feel now? Notice any sensations, feelings or other effects of having spent this time connecting with the community of birds around you. Perhaps tuning into a sense of gratitude for being able to begin the day with the glorious dawn chorus.

 

Find out more about the health benefits of connecting with nature at:

www.derby.ac.uk/research/about-our-research/centres-groups/nature-connectedness-research-group/

Visit our website to celebrate Dawn Chorus Day with us and find out how you can take action to prevent nature from falling silent: rspb.org.uk/dawnchorus

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