The Daily Morning Celebration

Why do birds sing? We derive the explanation from the phenomenon itself and let the morning concert with all that is connected with it have an effect on us.

The Daily Morning Celebration

There is hardly a more innocent, carefree or joyful natural occurrence, than the morning concert by the birds of Central Europe.  What a lively and joyful chorus of voices!  How touching are the melodies of the blackbird singing to the world from the rooftops; how heartfelt the light thread song of the robin; how cheerfully awakening the calling song of the great tit.  The song of the garden warbler tumbles cheerfully out of the dense hawthorn bush, as does the childish bubbling of the yellow warbler.

Each species of bird adds its part to the whole at the top of its lungs, without a care in the world.  But no sooner do we try to investigate this daily spring event, than we are caught in the straits between Scylla and Charybdis (a rock and a hard place).  This is a classic experience on bird excursions: either we are drawn to a sober biological reasoning when trying to understand why birds do such a thing; or we are so moved by the sheer concern for the ongoing protection of such wonderful creatures, that we lose sight of the question of ‘why’ birds engage in such concerts.

Double Shipwreck at Scylla and Charybdis

As I said, on the one hand, an all-too-biological view distracts us from the broader cognitive fairway: it is spring, the forces of life, and thus the forces of love, are moving nature with a new impulse.  Plants bring forth new growth, and the birds sing of a new dawn.  The male seeks his female, the offspring are raised.  Even the seemingly narrow world of the small songbird, is once again immersed in the wider nature of existence. The birds once again follow their instincts for mating, foraging, nest-building and territory defence.  Even these innocent creatures cannot escape the impulses of their hormones.  In our search for the secret of the bird song, we allow ourselves – mostly in unawareness – to be led down that deceptive path of biologism.  Yes, we can even trivialize nature, but in doing so, we carelessly reduce ourselves to the natural man who, because of his urge for new life, longs for the spring that follows the cold dark winter of inactivity.

On the opposite side of the straits, we are captivated by the degeneration of the increasing chaos and misery of nature.  Since the 1980s, European birdlife has lost some 600 million individual birds, about one-sixth of the entire European bird population [1] .   This has been accompanied by an equally alarming decline in the diversity of birdsong in North America [2]. … One could spend far too much time on these horror stories.

But on this side of the straits, we have strayed from our intention of recognizing the enlightened miracle of the morning concert.  Both the biological approach, and the drama of the disappearance of bird life, have distracted us from the original and holistic experience of the morning concert.  In both cases, the morning concert has become a mere occasion to distract us from other, different (albeit obvious and quite worrying) issues.  In both cases, we have failed to pass between Scylla and Charybdis.  We have suffered a double shipwreck.

Reverberation of the Starry Glitter and Sun-Welcoming Feast

But how can we find the middle road between the two aberrations?  Goethe’s maxim to stick to the phenomena, to the ‘factual “[3]’, and to take the ‘data of judgement’ [4] , thus the insights of enlightenment, the explanation, from the circle of the phenomena themselves, can be a guideline for this.  In this sense, let us take another look at the morning bird concert.

When does this concert actually take place?  In the transition from night to day!  The voices sounding are a cacophony of highly joyful, uplifting, soulful notes.

Imagine, in contrast, bleating sheep or mooing cows greeting the morning.  How much more spiritually connected and purer are the concert sounds of the songbirds?  Their voices weave themselves into a tapestry of united pleasure that eventually builds into a veritable force of harmony, like a reverberation of the glittering stars in the night firmament.  Their joyful character and the spontaneous voice to the approaching illumination of the world around them, transforms this symphony into a jubilant celebration of the sun’s imminent rise above the horizon.

A Sign from the Gods

A reverberation of the twinkling stars, a concert to welcome the sun!  What a sign from nature, an echo from the gods!  A sign in the awakening morning that touches us in a similar way as Venus, in union with the crescent moon, nears the horizon of the deep blue-orange glow of the evening sky!  This sign speaks more than all astronomical explanations and spatial ideas about planets and celestial bodies.  You stand there and marvel at the penetrating beauty of this sound, this event, this spectre of the sign.

Venus and the crescent moon, the morning concert of the birds: placed in the world by the gods, so that we may know of them, so that we may not forget to marvel, so that we may not forget to wonder.

Voices of the Cosmos

Isn’t it indeed strange that you don’t hear a single bird in concert in the evening twilight?  Only life’s chaotic noises are heard.  If you experience this fact, then in this dawning of a new day, the voices of freedom and joy can be heard in the songs that greet the morning light.  And even more wondrous: these voices are heard as if coming from the distant horizon, whispers of hope.  And that, no matter where you stand!  Even someone standing far away – as seen from where I am standing – they also hear these voices as if echoes from the far distance.

Gradually the concert comes closer and closer, building to a crescendo.  It becomes fuller, richer, more intricate, interweaving with the heart, filling the silent spaces with the songs of joy and happiness.  You feel more and more like you are being lifted into a spell, transported into the realms of bliss.  The voices from the super-sensible cosmos appear to break through the periphery of the night, bringing with them the blessings of unearthly joy to crown the morning light.

The Invisible Hand

But once again this miracle passes.  The magic of the songs wane, subside; the sails fall.  All that remains are a few isolated ‘singers’; the chorus has ended, and we once again find ourselves in the sober world of everyday life.  The invisible hand that raised the chorus of voices to celebrate the momentary link between heaven and earth, between night and day, retreats again into its absence.

For some species of bird, this hand reaches out again during the day.  The blackbird for instance, stops its daily foraging and watchfulness, to perch upon the rooftop, and in raised song, greets an approaching balmy summer shower.  Then, for her, this hand of joy again lifts her up, raising her voice in song.  For many other species of birds that join in the morning concert, the evening also becomes such a moment of celebration.

In the course of the year, the uplifting hand sometimes withdraws completely, for example from St. John’s Day (24 June), when the birdsongs fall silent, and the individual is no longer able to sing.  All have to wait until it takes hold again, when it lifts the heart in anticipation back into the dawning between heaven and earth.  For some species, they respond to the joys of autumn, while for the majority, it is the beginning of a new year; the warmth of the spring of a new life that calls them.

Making Sense

It seems that we have now come a little closer to the wonder and essence of the bird song.  Much can be learned in opening ourselves to the miracle hidden in the songs of joy that herald the birth of a new hope, a new day.  Even if we restrict ourselves to only investigating the outer phenomena of the bird song, and seek to understand the context in which they appear (the place, the time of year etc), still there is much to learn.  The phenomena themselves can be the gateway that shines the light of the gods into our mundane world, revealing something of their deeper meaning – an upliftment from the ordinary; the wisdom that shines in the light of the stars; the hope and welcoming of a new dawn.  Viewed from this perspective, how much closer can these songs bring us to seeing the wonders of the world around us?

Thanks: The article goes back to many years of research exchange with Wolter Bos, who also contributed some essential additions to the present article.


Further reading on the subject:

Wolter Bos, Hans-Christian Zehnter: Why do birds sing – an alternative study. Zurich 2018.

Wolter Bos, Hans-Christian Zehnter: Waarom zingen vogels?, Amsterdam 2019.

Rudolf Steiner: The World of Birds. Edited and commented by Hans-Christian Zehnter. Basel 2007

Rudolf Steiner: The World of Animals. Edited and annotated by Hans-Christian Zehnter. Basel 2015

Walter Streffer: The Magic of Bird Voices, Stuttgart 2003.

Walter Streffer: Klangsphären, Stuttgart 2009.

Hans-Christian Zehnter: Birds – mediators of two worlds. Dornach 2008


[1] Alexander C. Lees et al.: State of the World’s Birds. Annual Review of Environment and Resources, Nr. 47/2022: 6.1–6.30.

[2] C.A. Morrison et al.: Bird population declines and species turnover are changing the acoustic porperties of spring soundscapes. Nature Communications, Nr. 12/2021: 6217; doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-264881-1.

[3] „Das Höchste wäre, zu begreifen, dass alles Faktische schon Theorie ist. Die Bläue des Himmels offenbart uns das Grundgesetz der Chromatik. Man suche nur nichts hinter den Phänomenen; sie selbst sind die Lehre.“ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832), Sprüche in Prosa 165, Maximen und Reflexionen 488.

[4] Data der Erklärung: Der Mensch soll „die Maßstäbe der Erkenntnis, die Data der Beurteilung dem Kreise der Dinge nehmen, die er beobachtet“. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832): Der Versuch als Vermittler von Objekt und Subjekt.

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Date: December 15, 2022
Author: Hans-Christian Zehnter (Germany)
Photo: Полина Андреева auf Pixabay

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