Getting acquainted with the birds that waken us

The robin is one of nature's early risers
Robert McMillen

Go mbeannaí Dia mbeannaí Dia daoibh agus bhur gcéad fáilte isteach chuig an Bluffer's Guide to Irish.

The Bluffer is lucky enough to be living in a house ar thaobh an tsléibhe - on the side of the mountain, with a gairdín - a garden surrounded by crainn - trees. When he has the time, he likes to look out at the aforementioned garden to identify na héanacha - the birds who swoop down looking for a bite to eat.

However, the feathered friends can be identified another way and we have a special word for it in Irish - ceiliúr na n-éan - birdsong or as Dineen puts it, the song or concert of birds. If you're an early riser you've probably been lucky enough to hear the world's finest sopranos, tenors and baritones taking part in the greatest concert on earth, ceiliúr na camhaoire- the dawn chorus!

Yesterday was International Dawn Chorus Day and the RSPB NI issued some leideanna - tips on the ‘who's who' in the choir and how you can tune in to a very special dawn chorus event next weekend. At times it can seem like the birds in our gardens are in a deafening competition to get their voice heard but there is actually method in the madness and a very definite pecking order.

Act one, you can hear an spideog - the robin and an dunnóg - the dunnock.

Act two; lon dubh - blackbird, smólach ceoil - song thrush and fuiseog - skylark.

Act three and it's over to rí rua - chaffinch, colm coille - wood pigeon, an fearán baicdhubh - collared dove.

Act four and it's over to to the meantán gorm - blue tit, meantán earrfhada - long tailed tit, meantán mór - great tit, cíorbhuí - goldcrest and the gealbhan crainn - tree sparrow.

The RSPB will now tell you more things you probably didn't know.

“The first birds start to sing about an hour before sunrise, with wrens and robins among the earliest to warm up. Birds sing extra loudly at dawn because it's not a good time to go foraging for food so they focus their efforts at the start of the day on trying to attract a mate and hold a territory. With less background noise early on, their song can carry up to twenty times as far. Blackbirds and song thrushes come next, probably because the ground is wetter in the morning so worms are more active and the ground is softer.

“Finally, helping the chorus reach a crescendo, wrens, tits and warblers come in, with the tiny call of the goldcrest in the mix too. These smaller birds, who are perhaps more sensitive to the coldness of dawn, feed on insects that themselves appear later in the morning.

“There is also a chorus at dusk, but it's much quieter, and birds like blue tits and tree sparrows prefer to sing at this time of day.” (Many thanks to Amy Colvin from RSPB NI for the above info.)

Radio Ulster and RTÉ joined forces yesterday to broadcast the dawn chorus and you can hear it on the BBC iplayer.


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