The Dawn Chorus

American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla), male (Dover Publications)
American Redstart (Setophaga ruticilla), male (Dover Publications)

For the past two weeks, I have opened my eyes, well before the alarm, and listened to a symphony of bird songs.

Before the sun has completely lightened the sky, the neighborhood birds are singing. This is the Dawn Chorus and it is truly magical.

What is the Dawn Chorus?

The Dawn Chorus is sung by male songbirds, (often called the passerines or perching birds).

This musical performance happens only during the breeding season. The male birds are singing, “Come, be my mate”. Some mornings it can be quite loud. And with all the species singing at once it is hard to tell the songs apart. If I listen closely I can pick out a Cardinal or a Robin.

birds_singing male robin
Singing male Robin

When Can I Hear the Dawn Chorus?

The singing is most intense at dawn. Scientifically, sound travels clearer and farther in the cool morning air. There is seldom wind at dawn to distort the songs and diminish the range.

The singing starts while it is still dark. As the sky lightens, more birds join in. It continues for about 1/2 hour. It starts earlier on moonlight nights when the sky is bright all night into morning. The singing starts later when the morning sky is overcast and the weather dull.

By the time the sun is fully up, the chorus dies down.

Where Can I Hear the Dawn Chorus?

This Chorus happens in the temperate parts of the world, namely in Europe and North America. I can imagine how the chorus sounds differently where the local combinations of birds sing their songs. How much fun would it be to travel around the world and wake each morning to the sounds of the local male songbirds singing their hearts out?

Listen to the Dawn Chorus (video)

More About Bird Calls and Songs

Birding by Ear: Learning Bird Calls and Songs

Bird ID Skills: How to Learn Bird Songs and Calls (Cornell University)

10 Common Bird Songs Made Less Confusing (


Originally published 14 May 2010. Updated. 


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