What is the first species of bird to chirp at dawn, and why?


  • Author Dan Frankian
  • Published July 30, 2022
  • Word count 512

What is the first species of bird to chirp at dawn, and why?

The dawn chorus is a term used to describe all of the singing, peeping, and tweeting that you hear in the early morning. It's when birds sing louder and prouder than they do at any other time of day, and there are a few theories as to why they do so.

Birdsong generally begins 30 - 90 minutes before sunrise. Different birds will sing at different times. The blackbird, redbreast, and thrush are among the first to start chirping. Others will soon join in, and the chorus will continue until the sun rises completely.

For many years, it was thought that the early hours were generally the coldest and driest hours of the day, allowing bird songs to travel the longest and giving their voices more range. It's issuing a warning to other males not to approach...and the further they are away, the better. Females were also believed to be able to attract males from greater distances.

Scientists rediscovered this idea in the 1990s, finding that it had several flaws. They investigated the vocal range of two sparrow species that participate in the dawn chorus and discovered that their songs travelled at least as far, if not farther, during midday than they did before dawn.

They examined woodland and grassland sparrows and found that their findings were the same.

They discovered that the vocalizations of individual birds were more consistent and distinct in those pre-dawn hours than at any other time of day, owing to the absence of wind.

So, if you're a male bird attempting to win over a lady or claim your territory, it's more essential to make sure your fellow avian friends or foes understand that you're singing than it is to be heard over a long distance.

Another explanation is that "early bird" singing has nothing to do with heat, humidity, or wind but everything to do with showing how powerful males are.

In the animal kingdom, being big, powerful and energetic is the way to impress females and scare away your rivals. It's been said that the better you can sing during the most trying part of the day, the more appealing your spouse and the formidable competitor you'll be. So, the better mate and stronger defender of your territory you will be if you can sing loudly and strongly in the early morning before you have time to warm up and have breakfast.

Both explanations appear to make sense, and we believe that the dawn chorus originated as a mix of both ideas.

But who is first?

The American robin is one of the first species to join in with the dawn chorus. Despite being only 2.7 ounces, these birds have a strong voice with changing phrases that have a rising and falling rhythm. The whistles are produced in a row of ten or so whistle-sounding syllables, such as "cheerily, cheer up," etc.

At any rate, the “why” behind the event becomes less significant to me with each repeated listening.

Hawkeye Bird & Animal Control Specialist

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