The dawn chorus is something we tend to associate with the summer, but it’s still going on, a few weeks from the winter solstice. It’s quieter at this time of year – I assume because the long, cold nights leave birds with less energy for singing. Or perhaps they just have less they feel moved to sing about.
The dawn chorus itself is one of nature’s mysteries. We don’t really know why they do it. Unsubstantiated scientific-sounding explanations include using up any excess energy they didn’t need over night so as to be ready to fly – birds have to watch their weight. If that were so, you’d think a mild night in winter would provoke more of a chorus, but it doesn’t. There may be territorial aspects. There may be checking in to find out who survived the night and who didn’t.
I like to think they’re singing up the sun, but by the winter, fewer of them believe in the return of the sun and get miserable and don’t sing. I don’t sing when I’m depressed, perhaps birds are the same. Perhaps they are more inclined to sing in summer when life is better.
Curiously, owls do at night what other birds do in the morning. The first thing an owl does when it wakes up, is to have a bit of a sing. The sun has usually set by the time they get going – although in summer with the late sunsets and young to feed, they can run a bit earlier. What owls do in terms of signing isn’t sun orientated, that much is clear. I like to think they’re singing to the mice.
Why anything does anything can be quite mysterious. A lot of life isn’t directly focused on survival and reproduction. Rationalism has taught us to look at the natural world in terms of function and utility, as though life is no more than reproductive units maximising the chances of its genes. Even in the winter, the birds sing up the sun, and the blackbirds sing it down again, and the owls sing to the evening, serenading the mice. Nature is full of things that do not sit neatly alongside the current, allegedly rational understanding of what nature is supposed to be all about.