Singing Before Dawn

Pair of northern cardinals (photo by Steve Gosser)

16 March 2021

Now that we’ve changed to Daylight Saving Time sunrise is an hour later. Perhaps you’re getting up in the dark this week and have heard birds singing before dawn. Who are these early songsters? Here are three species you’ll hear in mid-March in Pittsburgh.

Northern cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) are early birds. Awake before dawn, they sing while it’s still dark. Both male and female sing.

Song sparrows (Melospiza melodia) are early risers, too.

Song sparrow (photo by Chuck Tague)

 In brightly lit urban areas, some song sparrows will sing through the night, apparently thinking the sun is just about to rise!

Song Sparrow description, American Bird Conservancy

In mid-March, large flocks of American robins (Turdus migratorius) stopover in Pittsburgh on their way north. They arrive at night, then sing before dawn. The sound of an entire flock singing at once is a special experience.

American robin (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Here’s their dawn song:

And their dusk song:

It’s worth getting up before dawn to hear them.

(photos by Steve Gosser, Chuck Tague and Wikimedia Commons)

3 thoughts on “Singing Before Dawn

  1. Dear Kate, I am up at five everyday and I hear the birds talk to each other but we still have the winter birds here and I like to hear the catbirds every morning in the bushes in my back yard. They are my favorite ones to hear and I call them to come to the bird feeder every day. They talk to each other every morning and every evening. Pretty soon they will leave but they come back in September to winter in Deland Florida.

  2. Hi Kate.
    One time I had accidently woke up around 4:00 in the morning. Before I went back to bed, I thought I heard birds singing.I wasn’t sure so I went outside to make sure. Believe it or not, they WERE singing! Such a sight! I never even thought that birds could sing at nighttime. My family and I are big time bird lovers so I was curious to know why they did this. Reading why they did this was interesting and something new to learn about them. I will never forget that moment. Thank you for the information.

  3. I’m a total bird-lover but I had to crank the volume up on my white noise machine so I wouldn’t be disturbed after 4:am by a robin who must have a nest either on the house somewhere like an eve or gable, or in a nearby tree. I start hearing him every day in springtime at dusk/pre-twilight and before dawn. I like bird songs but not while I’m in slumber-land.

    For a while I wasn’t certain which bird this was but your audio samples made me completely sure. It’s funny, in the daytime sometimes I hear his “hysterical laugh” sound, which is so distinctive that it’s unmistakable. 🙂

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