Why do birds sing? And what are they saying?

These were some of the fascinating questions asked of us by ecologist Dominic Coath on our recent Dawn Chorus Walk. It was a grey drizzly morning as we wandered along the River Purwell towards Ickleford, listening out for birdsong and pondering on the secret life of birds. Not all birds sing after all – ducks don’t for example – but woodland birds (which we now think of as our garden birds) have territories to assert which represent their larder. When you’re rearing young, every last leaf bud or insect matters, so it’s not surprising that singing is the first thing woodland birds do when the sun rises.

Among the birds we heard that April morning were the Great Tit (teacher, teacher), the Chiff Chaff (chiff chaff, chiff chaff), and the tiny but very shouty Wren, which drowned out everything in the vicinity, despite its size! Song thrushes, Chaffinches, Robins and Blackbirds also made themselves known and with help from Dominic, we endeavoured to tell them apart. As we neared Ickleford we heard and then saw a Green Woodpecker with its melifluous call and loping flight, and then walking back along the river, Dominic drew our attention to the sound of a couple of Kingfishers having a scrap – unfortunately they were too embarrassed to show themselves.

Despite the drizzle and occasional shower, it was an enjoyable and fascinating morning and well worth rising early for, as the comments on our Facebook page testify. After a 7am start (not strictly dawn, but it felt early enough!) it was  wonderful to return to the Pavilion for some well-earned hot drinks and biscuits, to warm ourselves through and exchange bird insights. Great stuff – thanks Dom! 

Dominic is an Ecologist and was taught to recognise and identify birdsong as a child by his father. He lives in Hitchin and is a member of our garden committee.