Dawn chorus and why birds sing?

Posted by Karl on Tue June 21, 2022 in Kijongo Bay Bird Life.

When visiting Kijongo Bay Beach Resort, one of the things our guests often comment on, is our incredible dawn chorus.

Having well established gardens, with most of our bushes and trees being indigenous, we attract a lot of birds to Kijongo. This dawn chorus can range between subtle to loud, starting just before sunrise, to around a half hour after the sun rises.

Bird song is a thing of beauty from the natural world.

A cacophony of natural singing talent.

Why do birds sing?

Flank spotted barbetFlank spotted barbet

Most male songbirds start the day singing their hearts out, but at the same time, little is known why.

It is before they start feeding, with birds having a high metabolism, they are hungry and need to feed sooner rather than later. The intense singing at dawn is thought to work as a warning given by the males, to other males, as territorial marking, a signal to females that the male is available and other reasons we do not fully understand.

The calls are species specific, with each species only singing and calling to each other of the same species. Taking into consideration that due to the air temperature and less air movement, songs at dawn tend to travel further than during the day, so this is a perfect time to advertise.  This dawn chorus is given around the world by many different species of birds, and yet it is still to today very poorly understood.

Maybe it is a song of happiness saying, hey I made it through the night, and I am still here.

New discoveries are taking place all the time in relation to bird song, its makeup, uses and meanings.

Here are a few different reasons why birds sing but are not limited to the below.

  • Territory:Mangrove kingfisherMangrove kingfisher

Territorial singing is mostly done by male birds, but a few female birds do sing for territory. Territorial singing is used to stake a claim on an area, food sources and mating rights.

It is used to attract a mate into your territory, then to impress the mate, to hopefully add to the population.

  • Looking for a mate and during the mating process:Male village weaverMale village weaver

Singing is often related to bird courtship. The louder, more melodic, constant song from a male is thought to attract more females, with most species.

  • Warning calls:Black bellied starlingBlack bellied starling

These are normally a short, sharp call, used as a warning to other birds whenever the bird feels threatened.

The drongo has taken this to a new level by mimicking other bird and animal warning calls to steal the animals or birds’ food.

  • Contact calls:Village weaverVillage weaver

Contact calls are made by flocks when moving. It is basically a “hey, let’s keep together” call. These contact calls can become quite noisy depending on the species of birds. It has also been suggested that some birds use certain calls, to indicate the presence of food.

How do birds sing?

Emerald spotted wood doveEmerald spotted wood dove

With having the ability to sing, birds have specialised singing apparatus. Birds have the ability to use 2 voice boxes, collectively called a syrinx. This allows birds the ability to create two unrelated sounds or pitches at the same time.

While humans use less than 5% of air passing through the larynx, birds can use up to 100% of air passing through their syrinx. Allowing the bird to breath and sing at the same time.

With experts still studying the complexity of bird song, what we can hear is only scratching the surface of nature’s best singers.

The great thing about bird song is that it was not ever intended for our ears, it is one of the wonders of the natural world. As listeners to bird song, it is a privilege that birds are willing to share their songs with us.

Someday we maybe be able decipher the complexity of bird song. What comes across to us as a beautiful melody, is a complex communication system or maybe even a language between our feathered neighbours.

Black collared barbetBlack collared barbet

Next time you get a chance, take a break, get up early, turn down the music, sit quietly and let the birds feed your wellbeing with song.  Or just come and spend some time at Kijongo Bay Beach Resort for a dawn chorus of note.