Hear Hawaiian Songbirds Start the Day with a Dawn Chorus

By Amy Werner 

Each morning those of us who rise after the sun are missing a free daily performance, known as the dawn chorus, sung by early rising avian vocalists in our own backyards.  

An ‘apapane, a species endemic to Hawai’i, is one of the bird species heard singing in the dawn chorus recording. (Photo by Douglas Walch/National Geographic Your Shot)

Dr. Jacob Job works in the Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division of the National Park Service and as a research associate at Colorado State University. At BioBlitz 2015, tucked away in the middle of a tropical rainforest as the sun began to rise, he recorded a dawn chorus in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. Job was one of the 170 scientists that joined thousands of students and participants in May at the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Parks BioBlitz, the ninth in a series of 10 annual BioBlitzes hosted by the National Geographic Society and the National Park Service leading up to the National Park Service centennial in 2016.

Just as sight can be inhibited by clouds or fog, hearing can be inhibited by noise pollution or the reluctance to be still and listen. The audio snapshots Job collects are a reminder that nature can be heard as well as seen. Job says the more you listen, the more you will hear, and if you get up early enough, this includes the birdsongs of the dawn chorus.

What is the objective of birds in the dawn chorus, is it to achieve something or a form of communication?

When we are talking about the dawn chorus we are talking about songbirds. Most people are under the assumption that birds sing to attract a mate and that’s only part of the story. The main reason these males are singing is to defend their territories. This communication saves them energy from having to see their neighbors, if they can just hear their neighbors.

Was it easy for you to distinguish different avian species from the dawn chorus in the Hawai’i Volcanoes Park?

I joke with people that my superhero power is I can identify all birds east of the Mississippi by their voice. But in Hawaii, it’s a whole different ballgame because I’ve never been there before. I could pick out about half the species that were there. In the recording there’s only 10 to 12 species. It’s very species poor in some ways compared to other dawn choruses. For example, I recorded in Michigan and there you could have 40 to 50 species singing at any given time.

Jacob Job records the dawn chorus in Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park.
Jacob Job listens to identify bird species as he records the dawn chorus in Kipuka Ki, in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. (Photo by Jen Shook)

Many researchers and scientists use the images they capture to help in telling important stories, how does capturing audio recordings serve this same purpose?

I think one of the things that I’m most interested in doing with my tenure at the park service is creating these acoustic snapshots of what’s going on in the world at any given moment. When the Audubon Climate Change Report came out last September there was concern that a lot of the species of songbirds in the country are more than likely not going to exist in the next 50 years. We’re going to have these acoustic fossils and that’s what I’m creating in a sense with my recordings is a fossil record of what used to be in any given area.

The goal of BioBlitz is to spread awareness and connection to the natural world, what would you say to those that may not know about or be interested in biodiversity to inspire them to be aware of the natural world around them?

What I always tell people is to take the time to listen. We’re such a vocal and social species, it’s hard for us to sit in silence, especially when we’re around other people. Whenever we are out in nature or out in a park in the city, you have more than just your eyes to take in what’s around you. I always have people just stop for a moment and listen to what’s going on around them. The more you listen the more you will hear.

The next 24-hour BioBlitz will take place May 20-21, 2016 at national park sites in and around Washington, D.C.

Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park BioBlitz Dawn Chorus recording: (National Park Service)

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