‘Listen,’ said Bernie Krause. He rolled down his car window, and we sat silently for a moment. It was an hour before dawn, still dark and foggy in the Mayacamas Mountains, a northern California coastal range. But somewhere in the distance, a bird was calling—a high, bright, lively song that seemed at odds with the misty gloom. ‘A song sparrow,’ Krause whispered. ‘They’re always the first to sing here.’ The sparrow’s opening notes meant that this day’s dawn chorus had begun. Wherever wild birds live, mornings start this way, with males ascending to their perches to sing and welcome the day. ‘The dawn chorus is one of the earth’s best and oldest songs,’ Krause said, grabbing his recording equipment and tripod. ‘But most of us in the industrialized world have never heard it. And it’s disappearing.’
Most have never heard it? What is he talking about? Here in the suburbs, and I suppose everywhere except the most concrete-dominated sections of cities, the dawn chorus goes on unabated. Around here the birds actually start well before dawn: when the weather is warm enough I always sleep with my windows open, which is wonderful except that the lovely racket of the birds wakes me up at least a hour before I want to wake up — and I’m an early riser.
I’m not saying this song is not endangered; I just can’t imagine how anyone could think that hearing it is a rare or unknown or generally unavailable experience.