The Morning Chorus: Explained

Wednesday, May 13, 2020
We are now in the thick of bird courtship, which means that each morning we are able to wake up to the beautiful sound of birds singing. Often referred to as the "morning chorus" or "dawn chorus", it is surely a beautiful reminder of all that is coming to life during this time of year.

American Robin singing, often one of the first species to sing each morning and the last each night.
Photo by Leanne LeBlanc
Have you ever found yourself wondering how birds can sing? We hear them make such a wide range of tones and noises, whistling and chirping and singing. So how do they do it? Birds actually have an organ specifically made for creating vocal sounds, called the syrinx. It is located at the top of their windpipe, and as air moves through there are small membranes that vibrate to produce sound. Due to the fact that the organ has two separate "windpipe" tubes, some birds can even duet with themselves!! This allows them to produce two different songs at the same time, such as this Wood Thrush you can listen to here. 

A diagram of a syrinx by Cornell Lab, you can animate this image, see how the organ works and learn more on their page here
As for why birds tend to sing so early in the morning, there are a couple of hypotheses. The songs we hear are typically coming from male birds looking to attract a mate. Early hours of the day tend to be more dry and cool, and this is thought to help birds song travel as far as possible. Another theory is that male birds are trying to prove their strength and vigour, displayed by their ability to sing loudly before the day has even started (maybe they even skipped breakfast). The real answer to "why" probably lies somewhere in between these two theories.

However, the "how" and the "why" are not nearly as important as "what" is going on right outside our windows each morning. The morning chorus is a beautiful symphony of song, occurring each day, and I encourage you to wake up and embrace the melody.

Happy Spring!



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