As It Happens

Birdsongs from around the world capture 'extraordinary acoustic moment' of pandemic

A museum director in Germany says the COVID-19 pandemic has created an "extraordinary acoustic moment" where nature can be heard more clearly  — and that has inspired a birdsong collection project that has brought together thousands of people from around the world. 

Dawn Chorus project received more than 3000 recordings of birds in May

COVID-19 restrictions mean there are now fewer airplanes and cars, which makes birdsongs around the world easier to hear. (Susanne Seltmann)

Read Story Transcript

Those who love to listen to birds know that, especially in cities, they can be difficult to hear. But recently, many of us are living in what one museum director and bird lover calls an "extraordinary acoustic moment."

So he seized that moment to get thousands of people from around the world to create a massive birdsong collection.

Michael Gorman, founding director of the BIOTOPIA museum in Germany, came up with the idea for The Dawn Chorus project after realizing that, because of COVID-19, humans were making a fraction of the noise they usually do.

"At this challenging time, there was a reduction in the amount of airplanes in the sky and far fewer cars on the streets," he told As It Happens host Carol Off

He wanted to encourage people to go out and participate in something, even if it was just from their own garden or balcony. They only had to stand outside and hold up a smartphone. Recordings have been shared on a global sounds map on The Dawn Chorus website to capture a unique moment in our history. 

The project asked participants to get up early to collect their recordings. 

"It's very interesting. So in temperate countries we have this phenomenon — particularly in springtime — when birds are seeking mates and also defining their territory. Starting from about 80 minutes before dawn, you have almost a clock where you have different bird species that begin singing."

Art and song 

The website contains more than 3,000 recordings that were collected over the month of May. The project received submissions from Japan, India, Indonesia, Australia, North America, South America and all across the globe. 

"It's incredible to just listen to the variety of sounds that one hears from around the world," Gorman said. "It really connects people around the world even without language. It's an amazing phenomenon."

Though not an ornithologist himself, he's working with ornithologists from the Max Planck Institute in southern Germany to use the recordings "to understand the situation with bird biodiversity." 

"Obviously that's a key issue right now, over the last 50 years there's been a decline in North America for example of 30 per cent in the amount of birds present," Gorman said.

Michael Gorman's son, Thaddeus Gorman, 6, records birds in a German forest. (Submitted by Michael Gorman)

The team is very interested in collaborating with artists on this material, as the project draws inspiration from their work.

"In fact, the whole project was triggered by a sound artist Bernie Krause from California, who has recorded over 8,000 soundscapes in all different and amazing locations around the world."

Gorman says Krause used to work with musicians like Frank Zappa, George Harrison and The Doors before pivoting to capture natural sounds. About a year ago he and Gorman taught a masterclass about exploring nature and art. 

Written by Alexandra Kazia. Interview produced by Katie Geleff. 


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