The Dawn Chorus—Requiem for a Birder

The last hour of the night seems darkest after tossing and turning to wake from strange dreams with a pounding heart. But there is a spell that can cast off the pall if we listen at an open window in the stillness of a spring morning.

The dawn chorus begins. Not only is there enchantment with the ancient symphony, but moments at peace with nature that help to face challenges of a new day.

The choir begins shortly before light in the east. A northern cardinal chants, wait, wait, wait … chew, chew, chew, chew from a favorite perch in the holly tree. He is joined by the baroque melody of a brown thrasher in a tulip poplar. A Carolina wren poking in a woodpile scratches notes even higher than top E on a violin. They are accompanied by a wood thrush in the back forty playing the flute and a piliated woodpecker drumming a staccato percussion on a hollow tree. The soaring music fades the terrors of a retreating night.

Northern cardinal
Northern cardinal: courtesy of Inge Curtis

This was a time the birder loved most of all. He rose before dawn to listen to the choir outside and watch for them coming for refreshment to his feeder as the gloaming turned to daylight.

He was old enough to notice the chorus was less dazzling than in his youth, and each year fewer of these friends visited his garden. He nodded gravely at news we have three billion fewer birds in North America today than in 1970, including many common backyard species.

And now the birder has gone, too. “Nothing stays, all changes,” wrote Virginia Woolf. That is a fine maxim for evolution, and a fact we have to accept without consolation.

Spring has not become silent. There are still birds that sing the same songs and as soulfully as ever. But tunes played by fewer pipers or a lonely bugler at dawn are received by those who remember glorious concerts more as elegies now for those we loved and lost.

To Geoff and his feathery friends: Requiem aeternam dona eis. ♬

Next Post: Keep our streams clean

By Roger Gosden

A British and American scientist specializing in reproduction & embryology whose career spanned from Cambridge to Cornell's Weill Medical College in NYC. He married Lucinda Veeck, the embryologist for the first successful IVF team in America. They retired to Virginia, where he became a master naturalist and writer affiliated with William & Mary.


  1. Sad, but beautiful and evocative. The dawn chorus here this morning started as always with the annoyingly persistent high-pitched single-note cheeping of noisy mynahs, then the wonderful carolling of magpies, and ended with the ridiculous laughter of several kookaburras including one youngster just learning how to wind up his voice. It always brings a smile to my face, even in my grumpy early morning mood!

  2. Hi Roger, Your tribute to Geoff Giles is beautiful. Are you willing for it to be used in the HRC newsletter? I’ve copied Lisa Reagan and Rick Brown on this note.

    Will you reply all? Many thanks

    Shirley Devan Cell Ph: 757.813.1322 Look for me on Facebook …


  3. Thanks Roger! I’ll ask Lisa to add the URL to the article in the newsletter

    Stay well!

    Shirley Devan Cell Ph: 757.813.1322 Look for me on Facebook …


Your Reply is Appreciated