When people are silent, nature makes itself heard

The Covid-19 lockdown silences the noise of civilization around the world. Rushing traffic, airplanes, industrial noise – all this has come to an almost full standstill and is bringing the otherwise often drowned out sounds of nature to the foreground. We are experiencing a historical moment that makes us stop and consider, feel, and above all hear!

Under the unique circumstances of this memorable spring of 2020, the idea for this Citizen Science and Arts project DAWN CHORUS was born – a project by BIOTOPIA (Bavaria’s new museum of life sciences and environment) and the Foundation Arts and Nature based in the Bavarian foothills of the Alps. Within a very short period of time, people came together in this situation for whom nature is the focus of their work – inspired by the American musician, bio-acoustician and artist Bernie Krause, the “founding father of soundscaping”.

Hundreds of bird species are welcoming the Spring sunrise with their songs every morning. Now is the time to listen to them.

Thank you for sharing over 3.500 bird songs in May 2020!

From May 1 to 31, 2020 we collected your sound recordings on this platform. Learn more about the results:

Dawn Chorus 2020

In May 2021 and beyond, DAWN CHORUS invites you again to repeat your recordings from 2020 – with new developed app and media art feature „Sonic Feather“. Keep recording bird songs and create you unique „Sonic Feather“. Join the Dawn Chorus!


Get up early, go to the window or outside and listen to the birds. Record the voices with your mobile phones. Upload the recordings on this page and share your experience with people around the world by uploading it to our soundmap. Your local recordings will be mapped worldwide. They will be an important contribution to a growing citizen science project to understand biodiversity, which will take place annually from now on, and at the same time be part of a global artistic project.

DAWN CHORUS is a unique fusion of science and art

“In this unique moment of human silence, the newly audible voices of nature are a wake-up call to protect our biodiversity”

Prof. Dr. Michael John Gorman, Founding Director, BIOTOPIA


The Dawn Chorus project from a scientific perspective

Dawn chorus – the early morning bird concert – is fascinating to nature lovers, artists and dreamers alike. But it is also highly interesting for scientists.
Today we know that bird song fulfils many important functions, especially during the breeding season, for example to attract females or to defend territories against rivals. For bird researchers (ornithologists), the early morning is a very interesting time of the day because this is the time when most (song) birds are especially active. Although birds may keep singing throughout the day, their song behaviour is never as intense as during the early morning hours. Interestingly, each bird species begins their song at a specific time with respect to sunrise. This means that the sound of the bird concert will change its tune every morning when different species enter the stage. The sound also differs between regions, depending on which species are around to sing along – just like a concert sounds quite different if gentle flutes or electric guitars set the tone. Not only time and place, but a number of other factors may also influence the dawn chorus, such as weather conditions (e.g. storm) or human-made noise (e.g. from air traffic). Hence, the dawn chorus of the Himalayan foothills will likely sound completely different from the one down at Piccadilly Circus in London (see noise maps, e.g.:
http://noise.eea.europa.eu/) – and the latter will probably sound rather different on a busy Tuesday morning compared to on a rainy Sunday when a lot of people are allowed to sleep in. We find this flexibility in bird behaviour absolutely exciting and would like to understand it better. In this special year of 2020, lockdown restricts a lot of human activity, thereby also tuning down a lot of human-made sounds, and leaving the centre stage to the bird dawn chorus – and we are here to listen very closely!

Soundscapes (from sound + landscape) reflect a lot of properties of a given habitat through their sound alone. Using the words of Bernie Krause (https://www.biotopia.net/en/event/past-events/36-berniekrause?date=2020-04-22-17-00): „While a picture may be worth a thousand words, a soundscape is worth a thousand pictures“ (www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernie_Krause/publication/257943543_The_Sound_of_a_Damaged_Habitat/links/00b7d5266932cf3dad000000.pdf). Sometimes, soundscapes change suddenly and drastically. A painful experience that Bernie witnessed when recording sound before and after logging activity in a Californian forest: despite reforestation efforts, the majority of birds had become silent, even years after the logging event*. Other changes may occur more gradually, for example due to the increase in road-traffic induced noise. Thus, sound recordings or soundscapes may help scientists to become aware of longterm changes in a habitat’s species composition, and to indicate where species disappear and biodiversity decreases. Further, they may also help investigate the influence of human-made noise on the song behaviour of birds.

The scientific goal of Dawn Chorus is to document the early morning song of birds at different locations, and across multiple years. Based on the collected data we hope to verify the occurrence of different (singing) species, and follow its development across years. This could help investigating species decline or disappearance in different habitats (including in cities), and to find explanations. Further, we hope to shed some light on the present types and intensities of human-made noise sources (e.g. traffic noise), and how they may influence bird song.

Citizen science is based on the help of volunteers, for example for data collection or analysis during a scientific project. With volunteer support, scientists are able to collect much more data than they could ever achieve on their own. Even if the data are not always of professional quality, they still produce exciting and important results. Last but not least, citizen science has an educational aspect in that it transfers knowledge, and provides food for thought. In our project Dawn Chorus, we rely on citizen science to obtain sound recordings of the early morning bird song from a multitude of locations simultaneously. These data are complemented with information on time, date and location of the recording, and a few simple questions about the current weather conditions and human-made background noise. From this, scientists will be able to document the current state of soundscapes, to compare it to the ones in the years to come, and to gain important insight into human influence on biodiversity.
Many people have heard about bird species decline on the news, but they may not be aware that this phenomenon is happening right now, literally in their own backyard. The dawn chorus is a wonderful nature spectacle, and it is a useful indicator of species diversity which we would like to make accessible. So join us in experiencing this beautiful spectacle of nature, and engage – take a conscious listen! Especially in these challenging times of the 2020 lockdown in which human activities but also human
sounds are toned down.

As explained above, the dawn chorus sounds different, depending on where you are and what time (with respect to sunrise) it is. To disentangle the effect of human activities, e.g. noise, we need to control for other factors such as the time of day or the current weather conditions, because these factors may also strongly influence the dawn chorus. This is why we require a LOT of recordings, preferably collected under the same recording conditions, from many different locations. Ideally, each volunteer would collect multiple recordings from the same location (1) over the course of the same morning (before, during and after dawn), or (2) made at the same time, but distributed across multiple days (ideally on a normal working day and a holiday). Based on the collected data, we hope to identify the species and timing (with respect to sunrise) of bird song. A short questionnaire in the upload section aims to collect additional data on location, time, current weather conditions, the exact temperature (if available), the type of habitat (e.g. city balcony or country garden), as well as the amount of human-made noise  experienced during the recording

The Citizen Science Platform Dawn Chorus is a project by BIOTOPIA (Bavaria’s new museum of life sciences and environment) and the Nantesbuch Foundation. Scientific support is provided by the Max Planck Society, via the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen, Germany.

Learn more about the results from the first phase in May 2020: Dawn Chorus 2020 – A few results 

Detailed report of the data collection from the first phase (pdf): A project report on the scientific aspects of the citizen-science and arts project Dawn Chorus – by Dr. Lisa F. Gill


Birds are singing ambassadors for biodiversity

The world of birds stands out in the sonic fields and is therefore particularly suitable for bio-acoustic research and soundscaping.

At the same time, birds are particularly important biodiversity indicators. No other group of animals is being researched so extensively on a global scale and can so precisely indicate the “health status” of a habitat, i.e. the status of other species occurring in an ecosystem, as birds.

The earth is in a biodiversity crisis of an enormous scale. Scientists call it the 6th mass extinction event in the history of the earth. Every year, 100-1000 times more species go extinct due to human activities than under natural conditions. Agricultural vertebrate populations, including bird populations, have declined by 60% since 1970 (https://www.worldwildlife.org/publications/living-planet-report-2018).

Birds are particularly affected – 13% of the approximately 11,000 known bird species worldwide are threatened with extinction (https://www.birdlife.org/sites/default/files/attachments/BL_ReportENG_V11_spreads.pdf) and populations are declining so massively, especially in Germany and Europe, that one speaks of an alarming loss of birds (https://www.nabu.de/news/2017/05/22397.html).

This is reflected in the dawn chorus, beautiful as it may sound. And it is exactly these developments that the DawnChorus Project wants to investigate, document, and make use of for the protection of species.


Soundscaping – Sonic landscapes

“Soundscaping” refers to the documentation of the sounds of nature. Amazing insights into the biodiversity of a habitat that go far beyond the naked eye can be gained with this method. One of the founding fathers of this acoustic approach to nature is the American musician and bio-acoustician Bernie Krause, born in Detroit in 1938.

When Krause recorded the sounds of nature around 1975 in order to incorporate them into his compositions, he discovered “the great orchestra of animals” – and discovered his life’s theme.

He studied bioacoustics and received his doctorate with a comparative thesis on the voices of killer whales in captivity and in the wild. On his worldwide travels, he collected more than 15,000 so-called field recordings of animal and nature sounds in habitats, i.e. natural habitats.

Bernie Krause’s work, the “Great Animal Orchestra” makes clear in a very direct and sensual way which treasures are at stake here.

Today, he has made it his most urgent calling to draw attention to this man-made disappearance of species diversity through his work.

In order to lend even more clarity to his plea, he is now seeking contact to art beyond the cooperation with bio-acousticians all over the world. “With art we can deliver our message to a wider audience.”

This networking was the aim of a master class in May 2019 in Nantesbuch at the invitation of BIOTOPIA and the Foundation Arts and Nature. Renowned researchers and bioacoustics experts, sound, video and digital artists came together to exchange their perspectives and to come up with new results together.

DAWN CHORUS is born from this spirit and invites people from all over the world to build a stronger connection to nature through a collective but at the same time very personal experience of nature and the mutual sharing of their local sound recordings, which is ultimately the basis of all efforts to preserve biodiversity. With their local recordings, they make a personal contribution to a growing scientific data collection and morning song mapping and simultaneously become part of a global artistic project.


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