NATURE NARRATIVES: The first hour of the dawn chorus

By Melissa Walker
       It is 4:30 in the morning and the strong voices of American Robins are already carrying the melody of a new spring day. The nearest birdsong seems amplified as if the robin is singing into a microphone, while dozens of other robins blend their harmonies throughout the neighborhood.

A singing robin.
Courtesy of musicofnature.org

       At 4:50, a Spotted Towhee adds its three-note trills. Two more towhees begin singing a few minutes later. The pre-dawn sky is beginning to lighten. I hear a train's long, sorrowful whistle in the far distance. As if prompted by the train, a Mourning Dove begins cooing at 5:16, immediately echoed by another dove. At 5:22, a chickadee contributes its “dee-dee-dee” and a crow its “caw-caw-caw.” By 5:30, the beginning movement of the Dawn Chorus is concluding as the robins yield the sound stage to the house finches and towhees. It is still barely light.
       When I was growing up in Louisiana, I assumed that birds sang year-round. The sounds of cooing Mourn-ing Doves and raucous Blue Jays are inseparable from my childhood memories. Then, when I was in my 20s and began birding with the Audubon Society in Colorado, I observed the unsettling fact that most birds only sing for about three months. April, May and June - the height of the breeding season - is the time to listen to the amazing variety of birdsongs. By the second week of July, most of the birds are silent. The Dawn Chorus has disbanded until spring comes round again.
       Note: International Dawn Chorus Day is now celebrated annually on the first Sunday of May. For 2012, that will be May 6. All around the globe, people will be rising early to enjoy the birdsongs of dawn.

Walker, a long-time area naturalist, posts regular entries in her online blog at naturenarratives.com. She has given her permission to reprint selected pieces in the Westside Pioneer.