Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Why birdsong?

I wonder, were you awake at four o'clock this morning?
It's a time when I'm usually asleep, but this morning something woke me . . . something very loud and persistent . . . a sound that seemed to be coming from directly outside the window. It took a few moments for me to rouse myself and recognise what it was that I was hearing.
Not the traffic that you'd expect to hear in Central London, not the drone of low-flying aircraft . . . in complete contrast, it was the dawn chorus, the soaring notes of birdsong.
To my bemused mind it was as though all the birds in London, augmented by an influx of vociferous relatives from the suburbs, had congregated in our communal garden to give of their best. I didn't make this recording, but it will give you some idea of the amazing sound I heard.

I'm sure there's a good, biological reason why birds sing so loudly in the dark of a January morning. I'm sure there's an equally good reason why they should be singing with such abandonment three hours before sunrise. But, in this instance, I'd rather remain ignorant, so please don't tell me.

Let's stay with the questions . . . does it take one bird to start the chorus? Is it the same bird each morning . . . the early riser? And the others, snoozing peacefully on their branches, are they reluctantly summoned from sleep to participate?
What is so remarkable is that every different variety co-operates in this morning burst of song. They may well be establishing territorial claims, I don't know, but the actual song is one of unrestrained, joyful co-operation.

Quite apart from the question as to why birds sing in the early morning, why do they sing at all? Other species don't need to make music to attract a mate, warn off a rival, or sound an alarm. And, whilst we're asking questions, why do cats purr? To the best of my knowledge, no other mammal makes such evident sounds of pleasure.
Finally, why do we laugh? In the terms of the evolution of the human species there is not the slightest need for laughter. Yet we've been blessed with this wonderful, infectious ability that deflates pomposity and enriches our lives.

The memory of this morning's dawn chorus is still with me. It didn't just brighten the four o'clock darkness, it brightened the day. In these darkened times, we need a song in the darkness . . . a positive note to offset the headlines in the morning paper. We need birdsong . . . and purring . . . and laughter. And, as with the birds in the garden this morning, it needs to be communal to be fully effective.

"First there was birdsong," so the saying goes, "then birds were created to sing."

We can't let them sing on their own.
Let's challenge the darkness and join them . . . !