The Dawn Chorus

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Andyvon | 02:33 Tue 12th Jun 2007 | Animals & Nature
7 Answers
My wife and I have a question to ask and a confession to make.

Firstly - the terrible confession.
We are not great ornithologists! We love to see wild birds and we love to hear them - but we confess that we don't know a great deal about them. There are many who can recognise a species from a flutter in the bushes or a call in the wind - but not us.

Now - the question.
This might seem outrageous to dedicated twitchers and I'm sure they'll be left gasping with incredulity. But the question is - why do birds sing in the morning?
My wife and I were up at dawn yesterday and we were fascinated by several birds singing their hearts out from various locations and vantage points. Then we suddenly realised we didn't know why they were singing! We know many birds sing to attract mates, but why do song birds sing at dawn every day. Surely its not with the joyful prospect of another day! Our best guess is that those particular birds are territorial and they are singing to proclaim their presence in their particular areas.

Sorry to ask what might be such a basic question but we would love to know why the dawn chorus occurs.


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You've already guessed it correctly Andy. Birds sing in the morning to let others of their own species know that that territory is occupied and if they enter there will be trouble.
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Thanks Wildwood,

I suppose it is obvious really but its good to know for sure.
I have been birdwatching for 40 odd years and though pretty good I find there is ALWAYS something new to learn. And what is wrong with enjoying something but not knowing its name? The only difference between yourselves and an expert enjoying a bird or its song is that the expert might know the name assigned to it by other humans. The robin for instance doesn't know that it is a robin!!
Can I recommend to all and sundry a very good book by Simon Barnes- he is a sports writer but alongside that he has a long and abiding love for nature. He writes in Bird magazine every month (RSPB Magazine) and writes a lot of sense regarding wildlife. He readily confesses to being no expert- his book is called 'How to be a bad birdwatcher'. It is terrific!
I like you love the birds but am definatly no expert. I am always amazed by how early they start when the weather is good.

Have a listen for the " dusk chorus" not sure if its called that, but they also seem to sing just as the light is begining to dim, its great.
A recent experiment (Torben Dabelsteen, Nicolas Mathevon) sought to shed light on your question, which has puzzeled ornithologists for some time. They, initially, believed that the quality of the sound transmission was enhanced in the early morning hours. The experiments, however, failed to corroborate their theory. In fact, due to a number of technical factors, it was found that sound quality (distance, clarity, etc.) actually reached its zenith in mid to late afternoon. So much for that.

Sometimes, I think it's possible that birds do sing for the sheer joy of it. Here in the western U.S., we have a species identified as the Rose-breasted Grosbeak (seen here: rosbeak/male-rose-breasted-grosbeak%20(6).htm )that lands on the top most branch of the tallest tree around, just before sunset and sings his heart out for about 30 minutes. It can only be described as utter joyfulness. I'm sure dedicated ornithologists will attribute purely natural instincts to the song... but I enjoy it immensely regardless...
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Thanks everyone - great answers. Like you say Burnhal, you always learn something every day. I've also just realised that birds have their own particular songs so that others of the same species know that particular territory is occupied by another.

I've never been afraid to admit it if I don't know too much about a particular subject. But there are people who tend to get very critical if they are quite knowledgeable about something but you are still trying your best to grasp it.

Thanks for your answer too Clanad. Several years ago I had a wonderful touring vacation in the Eastern US. I remember always being fascinated by birds I saw early in the morning. They were large and just like our blackbirds, but they had bright red breasts. I later found out they were American robins which are completely different to our robins. I stil remember them fondly.

We will continue listening to the dawn chorus with pleasure - and try to learn some more every day.
Sorry - I'm coming in late here but I have to sgree that listening to birds is one of life's greatest pleasures. I love birdwatching and am getting better with visual identification but I have difficulty with their songs. That doesn't stop me enjoying them and I have always found that experienced bird watchers are always very keen to share knowledge. I also agree about Simon Barnes. He lives near Minsmere in Suffolk which a fantastic RSPB bird sanctuary if you're ever in that area. You might also find that there are trips with experts during the summer months in your area at dawn to help with identification.

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