What makes those birds sing so early?

A songbird roused me at four this morning. Its cheerful call cut through my sleeping synapses like a propeller through still water.

What makes a bird sing so early? Insomnia? Excitement—new home, new mate? Joy at journey’s end, at arriving safely back at its northern nesting grounds? I want to sing loud and proud too, whenever we reach our summer nest (a parked camping trailer), even though the journey takes a mere twenty minutes.

I wonder if birds have a networked alarm system. If they take turns waking their avian neighbourhood at the edge of dawn. Because after that first one, on almost any morning, the cheerful call becomes a cacophony. But sometimes it stops then, as though the other birds roused just long enough to chastise that solitary riser. He could, after all, have merely stolen quietly off to eat his sunny side up grubs alone. But then again, in predawn food may be difficult to spot, so why not make merry melody instead?

Forgive me, friends, for I have anthropomorphized. Again.

It seems no one really knows why birds sing so early. Nature writers I’ve read propose several explanations, not mutually exclusive: Earlybird singers are generally male, they say, seizing the quiet stage to signal their vitality and strength to potential mates or to warn away other male birds. The songs travel further in the atmospheric conditions of pre-dawn, they also suggest. (Though that theory has been de-bunked—birdsong travels equally as far in daylight hours.) They do agree, though, that a bird singing alone in quiet surroundings can be heard more clearly. (A truth indeed. I adore early birdsong, but some mornings, when the singer’s voice cuts through triple-paned glass and two quilts, I crave a volume button.)

Here’s something I know for sure. On the mornings when I’ve had children in the house, especially the smallest grandbeans, that solitary bird doesn’t wake only me. One of those beans in particular always wakes up fully when the bird chorus begins. Then comes small thumping feet, and soon another early bird, a very chatty one, joins Gampa and I in bed. All is lost then.

I pretended to sleep once. The little one stayed quiet for twelve seconds. Then came a surprise: three hard knocks on the top of my skull. I “woke up” laughing, which is almost as good as waking up singing, but…really…at four a.m.?

Spring, after a dawdling start, has finally arrived in my part of the prairie. I’m as unsettled as a grasshopper, as thrilled as a man at an all-you-can-eat free BBQ. And I’m making the most of it, though not as early as the birds. Nevertheless, I have my own theory regarding why they sing so early. It’s why I sing too, though never at four a.m.

“I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free. For God’s eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.”

Happy spring, all.

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