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Birds in Meudon Gardens - Spring

19th April 2023

International Dawn Chorus Day - Sunday 7th May

If you have ever been fortunate enough to be awake at the right time to witness the magical, soul-stirring symphony that our feathered friends create during the very early hours of the day, you will know that this is something truly special. Nothing lifts the spirits and melts the heart more than this delightfully chaotic wall of natural sound ringing from the treetops, but there is more to this early morning singalong than just a wake-up call or an energetic outpouring of joy…a lot more.

The dawn chorus is all about defending territories, attracting mates, and successfully raising chicks. This energetic, early morning singing is typically carried out by male birds who are demonstrating that, even after a night of not eating and trying to stay warm, they are big and strong enough to still sing loudly; an activity that uses a lot of energy. Showing off in this way indicates to female birds that these males have good territories with plenty of food, which would therefore give any potential chicks the best chance of survival. A loud, defiant song also serves the purpose of deterring other males who may be looking to muscle in on another bird’s patch.

The first birds pipe up about an hour before sunrise, with thirty minutes before and after sunrise in May and June typically being the best time. Not only is there less background noise at this time of day, but the air is generally more still, meaning the sound carries much further. The importance of this was never more evident than during the Covid pandemic lockdowns when, for a while, roads were completely devoid of any traffic. Urban birds quickly started singing more softly (as they didn’t have to sing over traffic noise), but their song sounded louder. The range in notes also expanded in some species to include lower notes which are normally drowned out by the low hum of car engines. These low notes carry much further, allowing males to hear each other from greater distances and avoid territorial conflict. The sweeping, nine acres of valley gardens at Meudon offer a similarly noise-free canvas for birds to sing from the treetops without fear of being drowned out by traffic, and the range of notes that can be heard at dawn can be quite astonishing. No matter how many times you are lucky enough to hear the dawn chorus at Meudon, it always takes the breath away. Another reason that birds start their incredible chorus this early, is because it is too dark to search for food but also dark enough to not be easily located by predators. With loud singing making their location more obvious, it is much safer to mark out their territories in the low dawn light.

Birds in Meudon Gardens - Spring flowers

There is also a structure to the timing of the calls, and when the different species of bird start their morning routine. There is a set order in which the birds sing with robins, blackbirds and thrushes the first to start, followed by wrens and wood pigeons. These are then joined by great tits, blue tits and sparrows, amongst others. The singing does continue into the morning so, if you are not an early bird yourself, then a stroll through the gardens a little later in the day will still offer plenty of opportunities to listen in. Some of the more interesting sounds you may hear are the ‘laughing’ calls of our green woodpeckers, our greater spotted woodpecker drumming on trees and the high pitched ‘peeee-uu’ of our resident buzzards circling overhead. As you head down through the gardens those with a keen eye may spot nuthatches and treecreepers scampering up and down the trees whilst robins, wagtails, finches and thrushes flit between them. But don’t stop there! Head down to the beautiful Bream Cove where you can see little egrets, grey herons and oystercatchers amongst the rock-pools, and just a little further out cormorants, shags, black-throated divers and gannets diving for fish. Meudon is a paradise for both birds and bird lovers and if you really listen, you will pick out a new sound each time you hear the wonderful dawn chorus.

Birds in Meudon Gardens - Sparrow

So calling all nature lovers and early birds, be sure to set your alarm for the crack of dawn on Sunday 7th May for International Dawn Chorus Day, grab a coffee and be wide awake to witness this natural aural phenomenon, in the knowledge that you are appreciating it with thousands of other like-minded morning people!

Tiffany - Head Gardener x

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