For many people, the idea of waking to the sweet trills of birdsong is idyllic. But the reality isn't always as pleasant—will that Mocker ever be quiet?—and not everyone has a morning routine that aligns with the lives of their local songbirds. But now none of that matters, because there's a way to create your own avian wake-up calls thanks to Dawn Chorus, a new smartphone app from Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum of Natural History and its design lab The Studio.
The free app, available for iPhone and Android, lets you mix a birdsong alarm using audio files from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. For each alarm, you pick five species (out of 20 options native to the northeast United States) whose songs play in the order you select at whatever time you set. As the melodies gently wake you, the app displays softly painted renditions of the birds by Sam Ticknor, an artist with The Studio. Ashley Cecil, Carnegie’s 2016 artist-in-residence, created the accompanying flower designs.
If you're a new birder, the alarm clock can also double as a learning tool. I was able to customize my alarm to mix birdcalls I know, like the Black-capped Chickadee’s buzzy chickadee-dee-dee, with others I still want to learn, like the Magnolia Warbler’s whistly weta-weta-weta. The app also offers descriptions of each bird, along with information about the museum and BirdSafe Pittsburgh, a joint project from Carnegie and the American Bird Conservancy that works to study and reduce bird-glass collisions.
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Dawn Chorus still has some kinks to work out, especially for fussy sleepers. Some reviewers have noted that the alarm played for only a minute until it snoozed itself, a feature which could cause problems for those prone to oversleeping. On the other hand, light sleepers worry that the app will inadvertently keep them up; unlike the built-in alarms on most phones, Dawn Chorus does not sound when your phone is in silent mode. This means that to use the app, you also have to endure the pings of texts or phone calls while you are sleeping—a possible dealbreaker.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly attributed the artist responsible for the app's bird illustrations. Sam Ticknor created the illustrations, not Ashley Cecil.