I have a new friend well I think that’s what he wants to be. He’s been following me around for a few weeks now each time I look up he is only feet away. He watches me from his favourite perch, the roof ridge of my shed; he has quite a view from there, I can only imagine how things look from his perspective and what he makes of me as I to and fro in my garden. He regards me with a sort of nonchalance, yet at times his curiosity breaks free and he nearly speaks to me. I wish I knew what he was singing. I wish I could sing back. But no matter what he continues to sing his age-old verses from his tiny throat singing the joys of spring not only to himself but to any potential mates who may be flying by filling the air with his melodic lyrics; his song keeping me company just like a loyal friend. His name is Robin. He is a soloist and a member of the Dawn Chorus. There are other members of the orchestra about but it’s only him who seems to have an interest in me! The black redstart, blackbird, wren, cuckoo, great tit, chiffchaff, chaffinch, house sparrow and starling are too busy, too caught up with their pre-ordained tasks to take notice of little old me! But what a cast! All stars!
It’s at this time of the year that the air vibrates with the melodic, full throated songs of these tiny feathered creatures. It’s as if a turbulent contest is going on and everything in Nature especially the birds reflect these activities. Not so long ago I was intrigued to discover that Mother Nature has devised a very clever song schedule to ensure each bird’s song is not drowned out by another – in essence each bird has its own time slot and time to shine. This way only males of the same species compete to out-sing their rivals leaving the female of the species choose the best suitor. How do they do this? Well it’s all very elementary really – the bird that sings the longest and the loudest wins! How wonderful, how ingenious and how lucky we are that such a rapturous symphony surrounds us. We just need to listen and to hear.
But the robin it seems is not the first to sing that accolade goes to the black redstart who usually starts proceedings one and a half hours before sunrise. Then ten minutes later my little friend Robin starts his gurgling throwing himself into his slot for ten full minutes! He must move over and make room for the blackbird who gets only five minutes of glory. Hot on the blackbird’s heels is the wren, the tiny little fella steps up to the mark his song making up for what he lacks in size. All this starts at 5am and the sequence in which the birds sing is genetically pre-programmed and is the same everywhere. The crucial factor is the exact time at which the sun rises, which varies by location and calendar day. So the further east you live you must subtract a few minutes, whilst those of us living further west must add a few minutes. It appears that Mother Nature is quite an accomplished mathematician!
About one hour before sunrise the cuckoo begins his wistful coo-coo followed ten minutes later by the great tit whose neon yellow breast blows his breath from deep within. I’ve often wondered how such tiny birds can produce an amazing range of notes in ever increasing and decreasing volumes. I’ve since discovered that it is their voice box (syrnix) that allows the bird to draw air over it and it is this process that produces a noise or as I prefer to say a song. Muscles and membranes are contained within the voice box and it is these that are altered to change the note and volume of sound the bird produces. Some birds have a more highly developed voice box which allows them to produce the superb and sometimes vociferous song that we hear.
It’s soon the turn of the chiffchaff who gets ten minutes to announce his arrival followed by the chaffinch whose amber coloured face and perky beak gives it all he’s got! As the sun raises her big bright self it is the house sparrow who chimes in ten minutes before the first rays of daylight appear. Did you know that the house sparrow loves being close to humans? All that remains is for the starling to wrap up this musical treat with his tune ten minutes after sunrise. AMAZING.
Least we forget Mother Nature has endowed each of us too with our own unique and wonderful song. Don’t forget to sing yours as often as you can. And don’t pass by the loveliest things in life without noticing them.
Photograph of my little friend Robin above.
© Maria E.FitzGerald