Learning to listen, part 2

Male cardinal

I live in a rural area outside of Tucson, Arizona. Most visitors consider it a very quiet location, with little in the way of human-related noise. I decided to take advantage of this fact to try a new recording of the dawn chorus in my front yard.

The dawn chorus is an interesting biological phenomenon that has attracted sound recordists as long as there have been tools to record sound. Starting at or before first light especially during the springtime, birds start singing their little hearts out. They use song to establish and maintain territories and attract mates. It turns out that from a bird’s point of view, that particular time of day presents the ideal acoustic environment to broadcast their songs. Usually there is little wind, and the cool air that tends to sink overnight refracts the sound down, allowing bird song to travel further across the ground.

After recording a number of dawn choruses in a number of habitats, I’ve noticed that not only do birds divide up the acoustical space in pitch, but they also divide it up in time. I typically record a dawn chorus by setting up my recorder, then going back to sleep, then waking and shutting off the recorder after 20 to 30 minutes. The complement of birds singing at the start of the recordings is often quite different from those at the end of the recording. In other words, birds sing at different frequencies, presumably to make their voices stand out from the crowd, and they also join and leave the dawn chorus at different times, presumably for the same reason. Recording has certainly opened my eyes (and ears) to new ways of looking at the environment around me.

So here is a snippet of a recording of the dawn chorus in my front yard, April 24, 2011

For more recordings of the Sonoran Desert, see my album Sonoran Desert Spring.


Recording notes: recorded with Zoom H4n.  Recording was amplified and a low-pass filter applied.

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