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The concentration of avian song at first light (i.e. the dawn chorus) is widely appreciated, but has an enigmatic functional significance. One widely accepted explanation is that birds are active at dawn, but light levels are not yet adequate for foraging. In forest communities, the onset to singing should thus be predictable from the species' foraging strata, which is ultimately related to ambient light level. To test this, we collected data from a tropical forest of Ecuador involving 57 species from 27 families of birds. Time of first song was a repeatable, species-specific trait, and the majority of resident birds, including non-passerines, sang in the dawn chorus. For passerine birds, foraging height was the best predictor of time of first song, with canopy birds singing earlier than birds foraging closer to the forest floor. A weak and opposite result was observed for non-passerines. For passerine birds, eye size also predicted time of first song, with larger eyed birds singing earlier, after controlling for body mass, taxonomic group and foraging height. This is the first comparative study of the dawn chorus in the Neotropics, and it provides the first evidence for foraging strata as the primary determinant of scheduling participation in the dawn chorus of birds. © 2006 The Royal Society.

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Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

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