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Golden-headed cisticola (Cisticola exilis), a species of warbler found across northern and eastern Australia. Image Credit: James Niland/flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Why do birds sing in the morning?

  • BY Professor Les Christidis |
  • May 10, 2017

They're nature's alarm clock, but have you ever wondered why birds serenade us at sunrise? We asked an expert.

WHETHER YOU FIND the phenomena to be a rude awakening or a welcome natural alarm clock, most of us have experienced unusually lively birdsong in the morning – an energetic chorus that can start before sunrise and last for several hours.

But why do birds sing more in the morning? A number of explanations have been put forward to explain the ‘dawn chorus’, when birds are at their most vocal – their songs louder, livelier and more frequent than at other times of day.

The dawn chorus can start at different times, usually 30–90 minutes before sunrise, depending on the species of bird and season. The intensity of the chorus will be loudest during the breeding season.

Because it is generally males that do most of the singing and calling, the most likely explanation is that they are reconfirming their territories and letting females know of their whereabouts.

Also, as light levels are poor this early in the day, foraging is not practical, and so males are taking the opportunity to warn off rival males while females are listening out for a suitable mate based on song quality. 

Professor Les Christidis, from Southern Cross University, NSW, is one of the world’s leading experts on Australian birds.

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