There is nothing nicer than hearing birds singing in the morning. It is a lovely way to start the day, but the dawn chorus is not sung for our benefit. Bird song is an essential communication tool for birds.
Although some female birds sing, it is primarily male birds that sing in the morning. By singing before the light of day, a male can attract females and establish their daily territory. By singing early in the morning, they make it easier for females to hear them.
Although there are over 10,000 bird species, they all have the same aim; to attract a mate. In this article, we explain why birds sing and why they choose to do this so early.
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Attracting females and establishing territories
Male birds will sing in the mornings to ensure that other males know who the dominant bird is in the area. If you hear the same type of call outside your window each morning, it is probably the same individual every day.
Males use their songs to establish their territory. Other males will understand and will stay out of your garden. This deterrent helps to keep their food supplies strong and to ensure that no one steals their female. This repeated process acts as a significant deterrent, especially during the breeding season where males need to secure territory for their mate and young.
To mate, males need to attract females, and a good, loud song does this. A good, loud song is an excellent way of advertising their presence and availability to any females in the area every morning. Females looking for a suitable male to breed will seek them out and may start a nest.
However, it is not easy for the male. If the female hears a better song elsewhere, they will go where they believe they can find the best genes for their young. Males need to make sure they have the skills and endurance to sing for as long as possible and with all the correct phrases.
Endurance shows that these birds are strong enough to sing before even being out foraging for food. This suggests that they must have had plenty of food the day before and can maintain a territory where they can also provide for a mate and their chicks.
Loudest and furthest wins
The louder a bird can sing, the further their song carries, giving them a better chance of finding a mate. It isn’t enough for a male songbird to sing a basic song in a bush and expect to do well.
The most successful males can project their songs loud and clear. This means finding the ideal perch where their voice can carry across a wider range. Some will head up high onto roofs or high trees and belt out their songs.
Birds are surprisingly loud for such small creatures. Urban songbirds are louder than their countryside cousins to project over the noise of the city. They may also change their songs to suit their surroundings.
Females may also prefer a male with a complex song. The more phrases that a male can add to their song, the more that they can express. Songbirds have larger vocabularies and produce more sounds than other types of birds.
Birds may have calls or simple sounds to alert others of their presence, call to a mate, or warn off a predator. However, these birds don’t have the same physiology to create a wider range of sounds and don’t sing.
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Why do birds sing so early?
Morning is the best time of day for birds to sing. Birds have the most chance of being heard when everything else is quiet. The earlier a bird wakes up and starts singing, the less competition they have from other birds.
Other males will wake up to hear a stronger, louder rival singing away and establishing their territory and dominance. Later, birds will have to make a bigger effort to compete.
Blackbirds and thrush species tend to be up the earliest, so they are usually the first birds you hear. As the morning continues, different species will start to sing.
Singing first thing in the morning can be done in low light, and the dawn chorus will often start while it is still dark. They can put all their efforts into singing and re-establishing territories for the day as this doesn’t need light. Once the sun rises, all the birds set off to feed or continue the process of attracting a mate.
During the breeding season, it makes more sense for males to shout their status loud and clear in the darkness and then use their energy to find food, tend to their mate, and help with nest building where they can.
There is also the fact that singing under the cover of darkness makes them harder to spot. Females and rival males don’t need to see the bird to understand their status and intentions. The qualities of the voice and song are enough.
If a male were to sit on a prominent perch and sing loudly in broad daylight, it might attract hawks and other predators’ attention. A female isn’t going to want the genes of a male that isn’t that smart.
The need to be the first to sing under cover of darkness does mean that the dawn chorus can start very early in the morning in some places. If you love waking up to the sound of nature, it is easy to appreciate the different melodies.
Bird song is not only beautiful but also influences the next generation of birds visiting your area. It is a natural treasure and something to savour every day.