Nightingale

Luscinia megarhynchos

Also known as the Common Nightingale this member of the chat family is a relatively nondescript little bird that has charmed listeners with its powerful and varied song for generations.

Other names:

Common Nightingale, Rufous Nightingale

Nightingale

Family:

Chats

Length:

15cm to 17cm

Wingspan:

23cm to 26cm

Weight:

17g to 24g

What does a Nightingale look like?

The adult bird has predominantly light brown upper parts often referred to as being a warm brown colouration, morphing into a rust or rufous brown tail and rump. The underside is a pale grey to white with a light buff breast and flanks and a grey side to the neck. The eye is very dark surrounded by a pale ring. The beak is grey with a pale pink base and the legs are also pink. Males and females are similar whereas juveniles have mottled spotted upperparts and are a darker brown not unlike an immature robin.

Nightingale

Nightingale

What does a Nightingale sound like?

The nightingale probably has the largest range of songs of any bird consisting of a rich variety of loud and soft spectacular whistles, trills and chattering of both high and low notes of differing lengths and speeds, often repeated and frequently culminating in an extremely loud throaty whistle which suddenly ends. Whilst both paired male and female adults will call softly during the breeding season by day around the nesting area, the male bird sings extensively during the night in order to attract a mate using a larger repertoire of songs than those vocalised during the day. In Anglo Saxon times this prolific singing during the night is from where the name of the bird originates, meaning night and song.

Nightingale Song

Jarek Matusiak, XC641384. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/641384.

Nightingale

Singing Nightingale

What does a Nightingale eat?

A diet of mainly insects (especially ants and beetles) and larvae, with the addition of berries and worms foraged from the ground, in ditches or under dense undergrowth, is the mainstay of the nightingale.

Nightingale

Common Nightingale

Distribution

Breeding populations of nightingales are found from the UK across western, central and southern Europe into Russia and Afghanistan, with additional groups in north west Africa. European winter migration to sub-Saharan Africa starts as early as late July early August through to September returning north in April.

Nightingale

Also known as the Rufous Nightingale

Signs and Spotting tips

Like many tuneful birds the nightingale is frequently heard long before it is seen. Preferring open woodland and lowland areas with hedgerows and thick low-lying vegetation it frequently presents itself during song but is flighty and will quickly disperse if alarmed. It can be easily confused with the Thrush Nightingale but a quick look at the Common Nightingale’s rufous broad tail with long undertail coverts quickly identifies the two.

Nightingale

Nightingale perched in tree

Breeding

Dependant upon location, breeding takes place between April to July when usually one brood of 4 – 5 very pale bluish eggs with brown speckling is laid and incubated for up to two weeks. The nest is usually cup shaped and constructed from grass and leaf litter lined with feathers, hair and fine grasses and either built on the ground or very low to the ground amongst thick vegetation. After hatching the young will leave the nest around twelve days later and hide in the immediate area being unable to fly for another three to five days. Young will rely on their parents for up to another month following this period.

Nightingale

The nest of a Nightingale

Nightingale

Juvenile Nightingale

How long do Nightingales live for?

The average life expectancy for the common nightingale is up to five years.

Similar birds to a Nightingale

Other birds in the Chats family