Our friend Alex Coburn reports on the melodious dawn chorus from the Greater Kruger region of South Africa.

By Alex Coburn, March 2022, SOUTH AFRICA

Every day just before the sun comes up in the wild places of South Africa something amazing happens. If you go outside and listen carefully you will find that all the birds puff up their feathers and put on a show — a singing show!

When the sun hasn’t yet come up it’s just light enough to see but also just dark enough to not be seen by predators. So, the birds sing! But why do they sing and what do they sing about? 

If you’re a bird, particularly a male bird, you try your hardest to impress the ladies of your species and intimidate the other males. If it’s too dark to go looking for your breakfast, you may as well sing! And if you can sing a louder, sweeter song than your rival males, then all the better. 

Singing also helps everyone to understand who’s around the neighborhood and what area is their territory (their home). Each bird has their own version of the song they sing that makes it unique to them. It’s how the birds know who is around! One bird might sing, “trill tweet tweet trill,” but another may sing, “tree tweet tweet tree.”

Think of it like driving down your street and seeing your friend’s house. You know it is their house because you live in that neighborhood and recognize the way your friend’s family decorates. 

So why do the birds sing a dawn chorus every day? To stay in touch!

The louder your song the better your chances of letting everyone else know you’re around. A bird’s song is like a signature to them and it is just as unique as the sound of each of our own human voices.

And after all that singing is through? Breakfast! After all, the early bird gets the worm, right? 

Listen to this audio recording of the dawn chorus in the Greater Kruger, South Africa. How many types of birds can you hear? 

Audio recording by Alex Coburn

Now, let’s jump over to another part of the world and listen to a dusk chorus:

Birds also like to sing at dusk, the time after sunset when the light is fading. Listen to this dusk chorus recorded outside of Melbourne, Australia.

Audio recording by Megan Strauss

In this recording, the loud screeching call is made by a sulphur-crested cockatoo.

What sounds like laughing is actually the territorial call of the laughing kookaburra.

  • Can you hear any other birds calling?
  • Do you hear any insects?
  • How is this chorus different from the dawn chorus you listened to?
  • What do you think the birds in this dusk chorus are calling about? What are they trying to communicate?

Activity: It’s your turn to go outside and listen!

What does the bird chorus sound like where you live? Go outside and listen at dawn and at dusk. Practice learning the different bird calls. You may even want to make your own recordings! Involve your family or friends – you can all enjoy the birdsong together.

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