In praise of early morning song

Have you ever heard the dawn chorus? It’s one of the most beautiful sounds found in nature and one that can be appreciated anywhere in the world where birds sing. The dawn chorus is the mix of high and low notes, trills, and whistles you hear from the birds each morning as the sun rises.

To the birds, the dawn chorus is an effort to make the right noises to attract a mate or to state their territorial boundaries.

Yellow warbler singing. PHOTO: Ann Brokelman
Yellow warbler singing.
PHOTO: Ann Brokelman

To us, it’s an excuse to sit in the backyard with a hot drink in hand and enjoy the sounds of nature. Of course, many people can probably hear the birds from inside their homes, but there’s something special about sitting in the morning darkness, experiencing the rise of the sun at the same time as the rise of the avian orchestra.

Cardinals PHOTO: Ann Brokelman
PHOTO: Ann Brokelman

The dawn chorus isn’t limited to just birds. If you take a walk along the edge of a marsh you will likely hear the familiar sounds of frogs and toads singing/croaking in the name of love.

The vocal sac on a frog is the flexible membrane of skin that expands like a bubble in a frog’s neck. Just like the birds’ songs, the purpose of the vocal sac on a frog, and the music it produces, is to attract a mate.

If you live in a part of the city that doesn’t host the sort of noise I’ve been describing, you might have questions: if I want to experience the dawn chorus, then what time should I get up, where should I go, which trees should I spend my time looking in, and is that the sound of a mockingbird or cardinal?

The Beach has many locations to hear and see our amazing morning singers, and only time, experience, and a really good guide book will help you tell birds apart.

Ashbridges Bay is one of my favourite spots, especially because it’s so close to home. If you go there, make sure to head to the east point of the headlands. It’s a great walk to the point, where you can see birds in almost every tree – so keep your eyes up and in the branches. The water also has frogs, toads, grebes, ducks and tree swallows skimming bugs off the water.

What should you take with you? Good walking shoes, a hat, sunscreen, binoculars if you have them, water, and patience. And don’t forget to have fun!

Want some company to celebrate International Migratory Bird Day? Check out the Tommy Thompson Park Spring Bird Festival on Saturday, May 9.

Ann Brokelman is an avid birder and nature photographer –

Toad mid-song, with expanded vocal sac. PHOTO: Ann Brokelman
Toad mid-song, with expanded vocal sac.
PHOTO: Ann Brokelman

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Lovely, Ann – great article. We’re headed for Point Pelee this weekend, for some very early mornings full of birdsong.

Yes Ann – it is indeed a pleasure to sit as you describe coffee in hand at sunrise and enjoy the chorus.

Ah, the Dawn Chorus…what a great soundtrack to listen to as you start your day. Your article is informative. Love the photo of the toad in “mid-song pose”.

Beautiful pictures, Ann and a great article to remind us of how extraordinary the ordinary can be if we only look and listen. Thanks.

Great article Anne. Had the windows open last night and woke up to a symphony of bird songs. Much nicer to wake up to than an alarm clock! 🙂

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