The Winter Dawn Chorus

Dear Readers, in the midwinter mornings just before dawn, you might hear an unexpected trilling coming from the tree tops. To me, the song sounds almost like shards of ice twinkling to the ground. And where, in spring, the voice would be joined by a whole chorus of other birds, at this time of year all you’ll hear, if you listen closely, is an answering voice from a hundred feet away, where another bird of the same species is also singing. It’s one of the sweetest sounds of winter, up there with carol singers and the wind sighing in the trees.

The robin is an outlier, a bird who holds a winter territory when everyone else has given up on that stuff and decided to share. Tits and finches gather in mixed flocks, blackbirds that hate the sight of one another in the spring will gather to eat windfall apples with a bare minimum of skirmishes, and a general warm glow of fellow-feeling pervades the garden. But robins are not going to let their summer territories lapse just because it’s cold. What often happens is that a male and female robin will have adjoining territories during the winter, which they will each defend from all comers, including one another. In spring, as the hormones rise, they make their peace, join their territories, and raise their youngsters together.

And here is another difference from most birds – both female and male robins sing, and as they are identical to look at, I have no idea which sex my robin is. I can hear another robin answering though, and so maybe they will get together in the spring and raise some youngsters, as they did last year.

Robin (Erithacus rubecula)

And here, for your delectation, is my robin singing. You might want to keep your eyes closed to avoid sea sickness (no time for a tripod!). And if you’re out and about before first light, maybe take a moment to see if you can hear a robin singing, just for a second. I swear that it does the heart good.


4 thoughts on “The Winter Dawn Chorus

  1. Claire

    I have noticed these lone singing birds at dawn and dusk, only yesterday evening, I was wondering which bird it was.
    Will try to identify it with BirdNET, the song sounded more complicated than your recording.
    Very interesting post anyway.

  2. Anne

    I listen to the dawn chorus here and every morning I mean to record which birds start the songs rolling. I have noticed that the order is not always the same.


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