Bird song is music to
our ears

Kevin Collins,

Kevin Collins,

May is the month when our song birds are at their very best. The breeding season is in full swing and males are trying to attract females into their territory or they are telling other males to keep out. Early morning is the best time to hear the birds sing. There are a couple of reasons for this.

Firstly, they tell the others of their tribe that they are still alive, that they survived the night and that they still hold their territory. Secondly, as insects and other invertebrates haven’t started moving about yet, the most efficient use of time is to sing in the early hours and to look for food later, when the temperature rises a little.

We find some bird song attractive to our ears and this is where the Song Thrush gets its name. It has a variety of pleasant sounding notes and phrases in its repertoire.

The Willow Warbler, Mistle Thrush, Blackbird and Blackcap all sound attractive to us. The Dunnock in contrast, tries very hard but will never make it on the ‘Voice of Ireland’. Of course, it doesn’t matter what we think. What matters is what the female Dunnock thinks. The Grasshopper Warbler’s song is just a repetitive reeling sound and the pitch does not vary. They use a voice box called a syrinx for circular breathing so the song can go on for five minutes at a time without a break.

Some birds such as the Yellowhammer, Mistle Thrush, Chaffinch and Starling like to sing from a favourite exposed song post. Other woodland species like the Chiffchaff and Wood Pigeon prefer to sing from a concealed position in a bush or tree. Birds of open country, such as the Skylark and the Meadow Pipit, have no trees to use as song posts, so the fly high into to sky and sing while flying.

Bird song is such an integral part of summer that we tend to take it for granted. Imagine how empty the soundscape of our lives would be like without this wonderful noise.


Sunday May 20 is BirdWatch Ireland’s National Dawn Chorus Day. To listen to this natural phenomenon, we are meeting at the Arboretum (beside Garden Centre) in Dundrum at 4.30am. If we are lucky with the weather, we will hear the first notes of the Robin, Blackbird and Swallow while it is still dark. As it gets brighter the other song birds join in until it reaches a crescendo. It really is something you should do at least once during the summer, if we get a summer!