Dawn Chorus 2020
A few results

In early 2020, the lockdown situation in response to the worldwide outbreak of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV2 brought about a sudden and extreme reduction in human activity. While this crisis affected the lives of billions of people, it also posed a once-in-a-lifetime chance to study the effects of human activities on wildlife. A number of scientific studies as well as lay programs seized this extraordinary time of silence to collect data on animal behaviour and biodiversity – the perfect time to quickly join forces and kick off project Dawn Chorus, the “first worldwide art and citizen science project” aiming to explore bird biodiversity from early morning bird song with the help of citizen scientists and their everyday smartphones.

Dawn Chorus data collection 2020

Thank you for sharing over 3.500 bird songs!

In May 2020, we obtained more than 3.500 uploads during the scientific data collection period. 3.200 were made within one hour before dawn until one hour after sunrise.

The recordings came from 50 countries, 80% from Germany, about 5% from the USA and 3.4% from the UK.

Most recordings were made in suburban and city habitats:

Distribution of recordings across Germany (land cover and Bundesländer):

One of the biggest challenges: collect recordings from the same place in the upcoming years

A study published in Science was lucky to have pre-lockdown soundscapes and song recordings of the white-crowned sparrow from the same locations, to compare to recordings made in the “silent spring” of 2020. As expected, they found that lockdown noise levels were lower in the city but not in the countryside. Accordingly, the birds no longer needed to “sing down” the noise but showed off their full-range songs.

Since we do not have the means to travel back in time and collect data from the past, we will only be able to answer our questions by repeating our project in the future, and then comparing the results. Tracking bird biodiversity over time and comparing human-made noise during the “silent spring” and the upcoming years requires repeated participation from our citizen scientists. For this, we will need your participation.

So far, 40% of the participants uploaded more than one recording.

We aim to boost these numbers and wish to invite you to repeat your recordings from the same locations in 2021!

Human-made noise

Noise is not just annoying but has been shown to have negative effects on the health and wellbeing of humans and animals alike. The lockdown measures led to an extreme reduction in human-caused noise all over the world, and we set out to document this together with our citizen scientists.

In terms of noise assessment, we absolutely relied on the participants to report the sources and levels of human-made noise because it is not possible to reliably extract background noise levels from the smartphone sound recordings. It will be interesting to compare with future years when street traffic and particularly air traffic will likely pick up once again.

This is what participants reported as different noise types in different recording habitats:

Secondly, we asked to make recordings, and to report background noise, during the week and during the weekend. Usually, the daily human racket is louder and starts earlier on weekdays than on holidays. We expect to find that the lockdown would cause an overall reduction in human-made sounds, and that the differences between working days and holidays would be less pronounced.

Help us to find out by contributing weekend and weekday recordings from the same location in May 2021!

Dawn chorus singers as species indicators

All across the globe, countless species are becoming endangered or even extinct. In order to halt the loss of species, we must understand the underlying reasons, and keep track of biodiversity over time and in different habitats. Birds are often considered important indicators of habitat changes. They also have a great advantage: most of them produce characteristic sounds within the range of human hearing – which means they can be detected even if they are not to be seen.

During the famous dawn chorus, many birds are highly vocally active, which means that different individuals of the same and of different species sing at the same time. This makes the analysis of the collected dawn chorus data an enormous challenge. Our aim is to collaborate with bird song experts, IT and data scientists to eventually build artificial intelligence for automatic species recognition.

We are currently in the stage of analyzing some of the recordings by human hand (or better by ear), to build a library which the computer algorithms will be able to learn from. This means, we do not yet have any results on species distributions to show you yet. However, we can show you the species that our citizen scientists reported (in German only):

Fun facts

Sunday songs: Most recordings were made on Sundays, the fewest on Tuesdays.

Better late than never: Most people uploaded their recordings on the last possible day.

Thank you to all the early birds who got up really early for recording the Dawn Chorus!

Local time of the Dawn Chorus recordings (black) across the recording period (data from Germany, Austria and Switzerland), and of dawn (purple) and sunrise (yellow). Note how participants had to get up even earlier at the end of the data collection period.

Find more on the scientific aspects of the data collection from the first phase (May 2020): A project report on the scientific aspects of the citizen-science and arts project Dawn Chorus – by Dr. Lisa F. Gill

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