what time do the birds start singing

It’s that time of year: despite the still-freezing temperatures and lack of greenery, birds are beginning to think it’s spring. And in spring male birds’ thoughts turn to finding mates and establishing territories.

You may have noticed a cacophony of birdsong in the wee hours of the morning. Scientists call this the dawn chorus. It can start as early as 4:00 a.m. and last several hours. Birds can sing at any time of day, but during the dawn chorus their songs are often louder, livelier, and more frequent. It’s mostly made up of male birds, attempting to attract mates and warn other males away from their territories.

But why choose the hours around sunrise to sing? There are a number of theories, and they’re not necessarily mutually exclusive.

One idea is that in the early morning, light levels are too dim for birds to do much foraging. Since light levels don’t affect social interactions as much, it’s a great opportunity to sing, instead.

Another idea is that early morning singing signals to other birds about the strength and vitality of the singer. Singing is an essential part of bird life, but it’s costly in terms of time and energy. Singing loud and proud first thing in the morning tells everyone within hearing distance that you were strong and healthy enough to survive the night. This is attractive to potential mates, and lets your competitors know you’re still around and in charge of your territory.

For many years, scientists theorized that the atmospheric conditions in the early morning — typically cooler and drier than later in the day — might allow birdsong to travel further through the air. However, recent research shows this isn’t the case. Birdsong travels just as far, if not farther, at noon as at dawn.

Although dawn songs don’t carry farther, they are clearer and more consistent, and this could be even more important. Individual males have their own signature songs, with slight variations that identify them to their neighbors. If you’re a male trying to attract a mate or defend your territory, it’s more important to let your fellow birds know that it’s you singing than it is to be heard over a long distance. Singing in the morning leads to a more consistent signal and makes it more likely that other birds will be able to identify the singer correctly.

Brown, T. J. and Handford, P. (2003). Why birds sing at dawn: the role of consistent song transmission. Ibis 145: 120-129. doi: 10.1046/j.1474-919X.2003.00130.x.

Hutchinson, J. M. C. (2002). Two explanations of the dawn chorus compared: how monotonically changing light levels favour a short break from singing. Animal Behaviour 64: 527-539. doi: 10.1006/anbe.2002.3091.

Scientists discovered some flaws in this theory in the 1990s. Researchers found that the songs of two species of sparrows that take part in the dawn chorus travel the same distance, if not more, at noon than they do during the early morning hours. They studied species of grassland and woodland sparrows and discovered that their findings were identical. They discovered that, mostly as a result of the absence of wind, each bird’s songs were more regular and distinct during those early morning hours than they were at any other time of day. It is therefore more crucial to ensure that your fellow feathered friends or foes are aware that you are singing than it is to be heard over a great distance if you are a male bird attempting to attract a mate or stake out your territory.

Another theory that is entirely unrelated to the effects of heat, humidity, or wind holds that the reason behind “early bird” singing is to demonstrate the strength of male birds. Large, powerful, and energetic is how to attract females and frighten off competitors in the world of birds. It’s believed that the more proficient you are at singing during your hardest period of the day, the more of a challenger and better friend you will be. Therefore, the better mate and stronger defender of your territory you will be if you can sing loud and strong in the morning before you have time to warm up and eat a hearty breakfast.

I find both theories to be logical, and I believe that the dawn chorus originated from a combination of both theories. Whatever the case, every time I have the privilege and honor of learning about this enigmatic, exquisite, and amazing event, the rationale behind the “why” loses significance for me. This spring, I strongly advise you to set your alarm early and venture outside to witness one of nature’s greatest marvels.

The reason behind the birds’ intense singing during those per-light hours is the subject of several theories. The widely held belief for a long time was that because the early hours of the day are usually the coolest and driest, bird songs can travel farther and farther, improving the range of their voices. It’s a warning to other men to keep their distance—the further away, the better. Additionally, it was believed that women could be drawn to men even farther away.

House Wren singing on branch, , Bird Photo, Wild Birds Unlimited, WBUYou head to work early; it’s still dark and cold. It’s too dark and cold to make a logical reason to be up, and already you can hear them – those crazy birds aren’t just awake, they’re already whooping it up with their trills, melodies and crescendos. You are witnessing what is often called the “dawn chorus” – that period of time before the sun shows itself, but when the great outdoors is already filled with beautiful sounds of nature. The birds that you hear are mainly males. They are doing what male birds do best, protecting/claiming their territory and/or trying to attract a mate.

One theory is that light levels are too low for birds to do much foraging in the early morning. Light levels have less of an impact on social interactions, so singing is a great alternative.

But why sing during the hours before sunrise? There are several theories, and they don’t always conflict with one another.

Brown, T. J. and Handford, P. (2003). Why birds sing at dawn: the role of consistent song transmission. Ibis 145: 120-129. doi: 10.1046/j.1474-919X.2003.00130.x.

For a long time, scientists hypothesized that because the early morning air is usually dryer and colder than the later parts of the day, birdsong could be able to travel farther through the atmosphere. However, recent research shows this isn’t the case. Birdsong can be heard at noon and dawn just as much, if not more, widely.

It’s that time of year when birds start to believe it’s spring even though the temperatures are still below freezing and there isn’t much greenery. And as spring approaches, male birds start thinking about mating and marking their territories.


At what time do birds start singing?

Most birds start chirping about 1 hour before sunrise. Depending on the season, this means that birds start chirping between 4 to 6 am. And despite the early hour, their singing is louder and more frequent than at any other time of day. This is actually why birds’ morning songs are known as the dawn chorus!

What is the first bird to sing in the morning?

Birds start singing at different times, and just like an orchestra, there’s a set sequence. Robins, blackbirds and thrushes are first. The pre-dawn singers are joined by woodpigeons, wrens and warblers, while great tits, blue tits, sparrows and finches only add their voices when it’s light enough for them to see.

Why are birds so loud at 4am?

There are a few theories about why birds sing so vigorously during those per-light hours. For many years, the prevailing theory was that those early hours are typically the coolest and driest hours of the day which allowed bird songs to travel the farthest, giving their voices better range.

What bird starts singing at 3am?

In much of the U.S., unattached male Northern Mockingbirds are known for singing at night, and their singing is quite diverse. Each bird can know hundreds of different songs! They are also mimics, imitating other birds’ songs and adding them to their repertory.