The dawn chorus

Carol Vigorito, Interpretive Naturalist

Looking for the perfect musical selection to start your day? Why not listen to the “Dawn Chorus?” It’s easy to locate, absolutely free and there’s no equipment necessary to tune in — just open your window or step outside and take a few minutes to enjoy the celebration going on as birds sing to welcome the new day. Each spring morning, nature’s orchestra provides a sweet and unique cacophony.

American robin (Photo by Tim Hite)

Who is singing and why? The birds of the Dawn Chorus are mainly males. They are declaring their territory to other males and advertising their fitness and strength to the female audience. The relative quiet and calm of early morning allows their songs to be heard more clearly and at greater distances. Singing is also the best use of their time, since low light levels and lack of insect activity means foraging for food in early morning is not productive.

Carolina wren (Photo by Rob Blair)

Chances are you’re already familiar with a few of the songsters in your back yard. You may be hearing an American robin proclaiming “Cheer-up! Cheerily! Cheerio!,” a northern cardinal asking “Birdie, Birdie, Birdie, What Cheer, Cheer, Cheer?” or a Carolina wren announcing “Tea-kettle, Tea-kettle,Tea-kettle.” These are some of the mnemonics that help birders remember what the song of each species sounds like.

Northern cardinal (Photo by Doug Dawes)

Want to learn more about the individual birds producing the chorus in your back yard? Try to separate out and focus on one song at time. Concentrate on the song phrase as it repeats several times. How many seconds does each complete song last? Make note of the pitch of the notes — are they high or low, or do they vary? Would you call the notes a buzz, or are they whistled, chirped or warbled? Being attentive and even taking notes of details will help when you later compare what you heard to the songs of songbirds that are likely to visit the area where you were listening. Resources found at Cornell Labs’ “All About Birds” and ODNR Division of Wildlife websites are great places to start if you wish to further understand and appreciate the birds you’re hearing.

Whether you use it as a way to sharpen your mind as you sort through songs and their singers, or as a simple way to relax, meditate and enjoy the musical variety, the Dawn Chorus is a special opportunity to connect to one of nature’s wonders. Enjoy!

Whether you’re looking for a nature fix from home, or you’re at home in nature, Summit Metro Parks has an activity to connect you to the outdoors today. Visit for #AtHomeInNature activities, videos and more.



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