poetry and prose about place

morning chorus

with 3 comments

Each morning I have a short quiet time after rising. I spend this time in my guest bedroom. I do some stretching. I watch the sun rise among the trees. And I try to sort out the morning bird chorus.




The morning bird chorus is known to be a complex social interaction among birds of various species – a communication we humans can listen to with wonder, but little understanding.


We have lots of birds in our area and the woods are thick with birdsong. Although ours is a residential area, we have many hundred acres of woodland behind us and no houses between us and the river. Our back woods are mixed conifer and hardwood, mostly balsalm fir, spruce, red maple and white birch. We have nearby wetlands and, of course, the river.




I now regret not learning to identify the birds from their songs earlier in my life. Although I can name many birds by sight, I have a feeling I know many more by their sounds. This summer I have tuned up my ears and spent lots of hours trying to learn to recognise the birds by their songs. Perhaps because of their variety and complexity, learning the songs is more difficult than just listening and comparing.  Once I have heard a few birds, my memory becomes jumbled trying to distinguish between them.


I use three main tools to help me identify and remember bird sounds.

  • mnemonics – short phrases to describe and remember various bird songs. These phrases help narrow down the possibilities when I hear a bird sing. Many lists of bird song mnemonics exist, but I like the simple listing from the Fernbank Science Center in Georgia
  • recorded songs – although there are many sites with bird song recordings, the one I like the best is Dendroica- NatureInstruct .  Once you select a bird, you can hear calls recorded by birders in various parts of the range.
  • a list of the calls I know and new songs I hear, described in my own words and with a diagram of the way the song progresses, in a shorthand of my own. I use words like: trill, flute, scratch, liquid, repetitive, bored, delirious …


The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has some excellent tips for those who would like to learn the songs of local birds.

They suggest listening for rhythm, tone, pitch and repetition of a bird song.  By listening for these qualities, one at a time, you can start to make sense of the variability and help your memory.


Here is a list of the participants in this morning’s bird chorus outside my window:

  1. odd high-pitched sound at the first grey light of morning, probably not a bird
  2. immediately, an American Robin – ‘chirrup, cheerup, cheery cheer-up’ – we have a nest of robins at the start of our woods road
  3. a Mourning Dove, intermittent – ‘oo-oo-hoooo’ – very sad sound – a pair perches on the wires along our main road
  4. a White-throated Sparrow – ‘I love dear Canada-Canada-Canada’
  5. a Hermit Thrush – an ethereal, flute-like phrase, repeated over and over, each time at a new pitch – close at first and then gradually moving further away
  6. an Eastern Phoebe – a nasal ‘fee-bee’, repeated – a nest in the eaves of our shed
  7. a Red-breasted Nuthatch – a monotonous low-key ‘yank yank yank yank’, like a cross between a bored duck and a bullfrog
  8. the ‘caw caw caw’ of a Crow


I wonder if you ever listen to the morning bird chorus.  What birds do you hear?




Copyright 2015  Jane Tims

Written by jane tims

July 22, 2015 at 7:25 am

3 Responses

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  1. lovely sketch Jane. I love to listen to the birds as well, but know so few of their songs

    Liked by 1 person


    July 22, 2015 at 5:23 pm

    • I’m afraid I would be lost where you are. I wonder if you have chickadees, for example. Jane


      jane tims

      July 22, 2015 at 6:01 pm

      • I’m pretty sure we don’t – we have bellbirds and tuis, and they are our best singers…

        Liked by 1 person


        July 22, 2015 at 9:45 pm

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