Dawn Chorus I: Song of the Rain Forest

Tropical sunrise. Photo © Roy Toft of Roy Toft Photo Safaris
Tropical sunrise. Photo © Roy Toft of Roy Toft Photo Safaris

I am not well adapted to northern winters. Let’s get that out of the way right now. Driving to work through freezing darkness is just a prelude to a frigid day with lead gray skies and biting wind. What’s the point? I run the heater at full blast and play tropical music to put my mind someplace else. It’s pure denial and that’s the way I roll in January. The way I see it, sunrise is supposed to be a biological explosion. All the night creatures are going to bed, the day’s birds and insects are awakening, and when all these living things cross paths they stake out their turf with hoots, roars, tweets, chatter, and flutelike songs. Nowhere is this more true than in a tropical forest. An hour before sunrise the heat of the day starts to burn off the coolness of the night and the birds and forest animals go bonkers. What’s even better about this is that every animal has a specific time that it makes a racket, some predetermined time of X minutes before sunrise, and the chorus is so precise that I can actually tell time by which animal I am hearing. One day in April in a lowland rain forest in Central America I recorded the sequence of a dawn chorus:

04:11 – Great Tinamou

04:20 – Collared Forest Falcon, Mottled Owl

04:21 – Brown Jays

04:25 – Laughing Falcon

04:36 – Thicket Antpitta

04:40 – unknown woodcreeper

04:46 – Uniform Crake

05:05 – Keel-billed Motmot and Rufous Motmot

05:13 – Ivory-billed Woodcreeper

05:18 – Red-crowned Ant-Tanager, unknown whinny

05:20 – Black-faced Antthrush

05:25 – Long-tailed Hermit

05:30 – “All hell breaks loose

The pattern repeats every morning. Depending on how far I need to walk for work I know what time to get out of bed by the animal I hear calling. “Uh-oh. It’s the Laughing Falcon – time to get going.” Or “Half past Black-faced Antthrush already? Dang! How’d I oversleep?”

And THIS my friends is how sunrise is supposed to work. Just one of a thousand lessons learned in the ultimate school for biology: a tropical rain forest.

Come back soon for an upcoming blog “Dawn Chorus II” where we’ll discuss the biology behind the dawn chorus and how these birds know what time it is.

More about birds

To learn about any of the birds listed above and see their photos, visit Neotropical Birds by Cornell University.  To listen to birds from all over the world, visit Xeno-canto.

Links to “Tropical Music” – Click on the links and set your mind free

Bailando, Coulibaly,Papadio

Costa Rica, Central America
Sunrise over the Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica. Photo © Roy Toft of Roy Toft Photo Safaris

2 thoughts on “Dawn Chorus I: Song of the Rain Forest”

  1. Dawn choruses of birds in the tropics provide an example of communication in the presence of high levels of heterospecific background noise. The combination of high species diversity and a narrow window of time in which the majority of species sing should increase possibilities for acoustic interference and limit possibilities for song divergence. Beyond the basic species specificity of their songs, we know little about how these songs are distributed in acoustic space and perceived in noisy acoustic environments.

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