Common nightingales (Luscinia megarhynchos) have a large geographic range. They are native to, and widely distributed in, central and southern Europe and central Asia. Locally distributed in the British Isles, they are more commonly seen in France, Italy, and Spain during the summer when they nest. Common nightingales prefer milder and warmer climates than their close relatives, thrush nightingales (Luscinia luscinia). During the winter, common nightingales migrate to the tropics of northern and central Africa, including western Sahara, Egypt, Cote d'Ivoire, Kenya, Cameroon, and Nigeria, among others.
Biogeographic Regions: palearctic (Native ); ethiopian (Native )
Common nightingales are rather plain in appearance compared to their remarkable singing abilities. They are slightly larger than European robins (Erithacus rubecula) and their body is brown in color except on the underside, where the feathers become lighter. They have broad, chestnut colored tails, and large, black eyes which are adorned with a white ring around each eye. Males and females are similar in appearance, except that males tend to be slightly larger, with larger wingspans. However, females sometimes weigh more because males have higher metabolic rates due to their tendency to sing.
Range mass: 18 to 23 g.
Average mass: 21 g.
Range length: 14 to 17 cm.
Average length: 16.5 cm.
Range wingspan: 20 to 24 cm.
Average wingspan: 22.5 cm.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike; male larger
Common nightingales typically prefer habitats with mild to warm climates. They can be found in areas with dense, low thicket growth or woodlands with young trees and bare ground underneath. They prefer habitats with coppiced tree species, and are most often found in hazel trees. This is ideal for Luscinia megarhynchos because it provides a good hiding place from predators while allowing them to search for food and make nests safely. Due to the recent decline in the population of common nightingales in England, researchers have investigated whether a cutback of suitable habitats may have caused the decline. Various factors, including climate change, changes in the quality of habitats, the introduction of Reeve's muntjacs (Muntiacus reevesi), and the re-introduction of roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) have all contributed to population declines in Britain. Reeve's muntjacs and roe deer graze in the woods typically inhabited by common nightingales, which reduces the density of shrubs.
Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: forest ; scrub forest
Habitat and Ecology
Common nightingales are primarily insectivores, preying on insects such as beetles, ants, worms, and spiders found on the ground. They also eat insect larvae. In the autumn common nightingales sometimes eat berries and other fruits.
Animal Foods: insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods; terrestrial worms
Plant Foods: fruit
Primary Diet: carnivore (Insectivore , Vermivore); herbivore (Frugivore )
Common nightingales, like many songbirds, play an important role in the ecosystem by eating insects that may damage leaves and the growth of trees. Tawny owls prey on common nightingales.
The major known predators of common nightingales are tawny owls, Strix aluco. In order to decrease their risk of predation, common nightingales tend to reduce the amount and volume of night time singing when not actively attracting mates.
- tawny owls (Strix aluco)
Life History and Behavior
Common nightingales communicate with others by singing whistle and non-whistle songs. Whistle songs are used during breeding season. The number of whistle songs decrease when males successfully mate. When trying to attract a female, a male will sing for up to 50% of the night. Males lose weight each night when they sing (Thomas, 2002). There are several metabolic consequences to singing at night, one of which is that common nightingales must spend time during the day looking for food in order to build up a larger body reserve, thereby giving up the time that it could take to sing and increasing the chance of being seen by predators.
Communication Channels: acoustic
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Common nightingale typical lifespan ranges from one to five years. The oldest recorded age is at 8 years and 4 months old. Although little is known about what typically limits the lifespan of common nightingales, there is no doubt that predation and habitat reduction contribute to the relatively short lifespan. There has been no recorded lifespan of a nightingale in captivity.
Status: wild: 1 to 8 years.
Status: wild: 5 years.
Status: wild: 1 to 5 years.
Status: wild: 3.8 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
One of the most notable characteristics of common nightingales is their beautiful singing ability, especially by male birds. Common nightingales are well known for singing during the night, hence their name. Older males have improved mating success due to their larger song repertoire and territory, which attracts females better. They are reported to have a 53% larger song repertoire than younger males, and the repertoire is reported to consist of approximately 180 to 260 song variations. Researchers have not discovered yet why song repertoire increases so dramatically in older males. Upon mating successfully, males change the types of their songs by reducing their whistle songs, which are used to attract females, and ceasing their nocturnal songs until their mate lays eggs.
The mating season is a highly competitive time for common nightingales. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to sing and male songs may reflect their body condition, resulting in female selection of the best singers (Schmidt et al., 2005). More aggressively singing males will have a better chance of mating success. Up to 49% of males may not successfully find a mate. Males defend their nest territory very aggressively, fighting and chasing away trespassing birds.
Common nightingales are seasonally monogamous.
Mating System: monogamous
Breeding in common nightingales takes place around mid-May each year. Nests are usually set up by the female among the twigs found in dense shrubs, using dried leaves and grass. Incubation lasts approximately thirteen to fourteen days by the female. Each egg is 21 by 16 mm, weighing 2.7 g, of which 6% is the shell. Common nightingales reach sexual maturity at the age of one.
Breeding interval: Common nightingales breed from May through June. First clutches can be expected around May 13th.
Breeding season: Breeding typically occurs between May 5th and June 6th.
Range eggs per season: 4 to 5.
Average eggs per season: 4.63.
Range time to hatching: 13 to 14 days.
Average time to hatching: 13.75 days.
Range fledging age: 11 to 13 days.
Average fledging age: 11.98 days.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 1 years.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 1 years.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; oviparous
Before the eggs hatch, the female incubates the eggs, and both parents project the eggs from predators. When the eggs hatch, both parents take care of the offspring by feeding and nurturing them until they can survive on their own. The fledgling period lasts between 11 to 13 days.
Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female)
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Luscinia megarhynchos
Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.
See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.
-- end --
Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Luscinia megarhynchos
Public Records: 5
Specimens with Barcodes: 10
Species With Barcodes: 1
Changes in common nightingale habitat quality and quantity in Britain has resulted in a decline in the local population over the last two decades. The decline is also affected by predation pressure and introduction of non-native species such as roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) which graze in nightingale habitat. Also, while common nightingales prefer a mild climate, Britain's climate has recently become colder and wetter, which also contributes to the population decline. There has been speculation that these birds are facing problems in their wintering grounds due to changes in climate and habitat as well. According to The State of Europe’s Common Birds 2007 report, common nightingales experienced a 63% population decline in Europe between 1980 and 2005. Due to their importance in Britain, common nightingales have been placed on the Amber List.
US Migratory Bird Act: no special status
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: no special status
State of Michigan List: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- 2012Least Concern
Status in Egypt
Regular passage visitor.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
There are no known adverse effects of Luscinia megarhynchos on humans.
Many people are fans of common nightingale songs. These birds are important in western European culture. Perhaps one of the most famous roles is in the John Keats poem, "Ode to a Nightingale," in which the poet describes the beauty of a nightingale's song. Tchaikovsky was said to be inspired by the nightingale's song while composing "The Nightingale", op. 60 no. 4. Stravinsky also composed a piece referring to the nightingale's song in "Song of the Nightingale and Chinese March". Including research and education, common nightingales are important for birdwatchers and people who appreciate the beauty of their songs.
Positive Impacts: research and education
The common nightingale or simply nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos), also known as rufous nightingale, is a small passerine bird best known for its powerful and beautiful song. It was formerly classed as a member of the thrush family Turdidae, but is now more generally considered to be an Old World flycatcher, Muscicapidae. It belongs to a group of more terrestrial species, often called chats.
The common nightingale is slightly larger than the European robin, at 15–16.5 cm (5.9–6.5 in) length. It is plain brown above except for the reddish tail. It is buff to white below. Sexes are similar. The eastern subspecies L. m. hafizi and L. m. africana have paler upperparts and a stronger face-pattern, including a pale supercilium. The song of the nightingale has been described as one of the most beautiful sounds in nature, inspiring songs, fairy tales, opera, books, and a great deal of poetry.
Distribution and habitat
It is a migratory insectivorous species breeding in forest and scrub in Europe and south-west Asia, and wintering in west Africa. It is not found naturally in the Americas. The distribution is more southerly than the very closely related thrush nightingale Luscinia luscinia. It nests on or near the ground in dense vegetation. Research in Germany found that favoured breeding habitat of nightingales was defined by a number of geographical parameters.
- less than 400 m (1300 ft) above mean sea level
- mean air temperature during the growing season above 14 °C (57 °F)
- more than 20 days/year on which temperatures exceed 25 °C (77 °F)
- annual precipitation less than 750mm
- aridity index lower than 0.35
- no closed canopy
In the UK the bird is at the northern limit of its range which has contracted in recent years, placing it on the amber list for conservation. Despite local efforts to safeguard its favoured coppice and scrub habitat, numbers fell by 53 per cent between 1995 and 2008. A survey conducted by the British Trust for Ornithology in 2012 and 2013 recorded some 3,300 territories, with most of these clustered in a few counties in the south-east of England, notably Kent, Essex, Suffolk, and East and West Sussex.
By contrast, the European breeding population is estimated at between 3.2 and 7 million pairs, giving it green conservation status (least concern).
Behaviour and ecology
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (August 2013)|
Common nightingales are so named because they frequently sing at night as well as during the day. The name has been used for more than 1,000 years, being highly recognisable even in its Anglo-Saxon form – 'nightingale'. It means 'night songstress'. Early writers assumed the female sang when it is in fact the male. The song is loud, with an impressive range of whistles, trills and gurgles. Its song is particularly noticeable at night because few other birds are singing. This is why its name includes "night" in several languages. Only unpaired males sing regularly at night, and nocturnal song is likely to serve to attract a mate. Singing at dawn, during the hour before sunrise, is assumed to be important in defending the bird's territory. Nightingales sing even more loudly in urban or near-urban environments, in order to overcome the background noise. The most characteristic feature of the song is a loud whistling crescendo, absent from the song of thrush nightingale. It has a frog-like alarm call.
Relationship with humans
The common nightingale is an important symbol for poets from a variety of ages, and has taken on a number of symbolic connotations. Homer evokes the Nightingale in the Odyssey, suggesting the myth of Philomela and Procne (one of whom, depending on the myth's version, is turned into a nightingale ). This myth is the focus of Sophocles' tragedy, Tereus, of which only fragments remain. Ovid, too, in his Metamorphoses, includes the most popular version of this myth, imitated and altered by later poets, including Chrétien de Troyes, Geoffrey Chaucer, John Gower, and George Gascoigne. T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land" also evokes the common nightingale's song (and the myth of Philomela and Procne). Because of the violence associated with the myth, the nightingale's song was long interpreted as a lament.
The common nightingale has also been used as a symbol of poets or their poetry. Poets chose the nightingale as a symbol because of its creative and seemingly spontaneous song. Aristophanes's Birds and Callimachus both evoke the bird's song as a form of poetry. Virgil compares the mourning of Orpheus to the “lament of the nightingale”.
In Sonnet 102 Shakespeare compares his love poetry to the song of the common nightingale (Philomel):
- "Our love was new, and then but in the spring,
- When I was wont to greet it with my lays;
- As Philomel in summer's front doth sing,
- And stops his pipe in growth of riper days:"
During the Romantic era the bird's symbolism changed once more: poets viewed the nightingale not only as a poet in his own right, but as “master of a superior art that could inspire the human poet”. For some romantic poets, the nightingale even began to take on qualities of the muse. Coleridge and Wordsworth saw the nightingale more as an instance of natural poetic creation: the nightingale became a voice of nature. John Keats' "Ode to a Nightingale" pictures the nightingale as an idealized poet who has achieved the poetry that Keats longs to write. Invoking a similar conception of the nightingale, Shelley wrote in his “A Defense of Poetry":
- "A poet is a nightingale who sits in darkness and sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds; his auditors are as men entranced by the melody of an unseen musician, who feel that they are moved and softened, yet know not whence or why.”
- The Aēdōn (Ancient Greek: Ἀηδών, "Nightingale") is a minor character in Aristophanes's 414 BC Attic comedy The Birds.
- The love of the nightingale for the rose is widely used, often metaphorically, in Persian literature.
- "The Owl and the Nightingale" (12th or 13th century) is a Middle English poem about an argument between these two birds.
- John Milton's sonnet "To the Nightingale" (1632–33) contrasts the symbolism of the nightingale as a bird for lovers, with the cuckoo as the bird that called when wives were unfaithful to (or "cuckolded") their husbands.
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "The Nightingale: A Conversation Poem", printed in 1798, disputes the traditional idea that nightingales are connected to the idea of melancholy.
- Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 6 (1808), the "Pastoral Symphony", includes in its second movement flute imitations of nightingale calls.
- John Keats's "Ode to a Nightingale" (1819) was described by Edmund Clarence Stedman as "one of our shorter English lyrics that still seems to me... the nearest to perfection, the one I would surrender last of all" and by Algernon Charles Swinburne as "one of the final masterpieces of human work in all time and for all ages".
- The beauty of the nightingale's song is a theme in Hans Christian Andersen's story "The Nightingale" from 1843.
- A recording of nightingale song is included, as directed by the score, in "The Pines of Janiculum", the third movement of Ottorino Respighi's 1924 symphonic poem "Pines of Rome" (Pini di Roma).
- Igor Stravinsky based his first opera, The Nightingale (1914), on the Hans Christian Andersen story and later prepared a symphonic poem, The Song of the Nightingale (1917), using music from the opera.
- In 1915, Joseph Lamb wrote a rag called "Ragtime Nightingale" that was intended to imitate the nightingale calls.
- "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" (1939) was one of the most popular songs in Britain during World War II.
- A nightingale is depicted on the reverse of the Croatian 1 kuna coin, minted since 1993.
- Demi Lovato released a song entitled "Nightingale" in 2014.
- BirdLife International (2012). "Luscinia megarhynchos". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
- British Library Sound Archive. British wildlife recordings: Nightingale, accessed 29 May 2013
- Maxwell, Catherine. "The Female Sublime from Milton to Swinburne: Bearing Blindness", Manchester University Press, 2001, pp. 26–29 ISBN 0719057523
- (German) Wink, Michael (1973): " Die Verbreitung der Nachtigall (Luscinia megarhynchos) im Rheinland". Charadrius 9(2/3): 65-80. (PDF)
- "Nightingale population fallen by 50%". British Trust for Ornithology. Retrieved 20 April 2014.
- "Nightingale survey latest news". British Trust for Ornithology. Retrieved 20 April 2014.
- "Birdfacts — British Trust for Ornithology". British Trust for Ornithology. Retrieved 20 April 2014.
- Salisbury, Joyce E. (2001), Women in the ancient world, ABC-CLIO, p. 276, ISBN 978-1-57607-092-5
- Chandler, Albert R. (1934), "The Nightingale in Greek and Latin Poetry", The Classic Journal (The Classical Association of the Middle West and South, Inc.) XXX (2): 78–84
- Eliot, T.S. (1964), The Waste Land and Other Poems (Signet Classic ed.), New York, NY: Penguin Group, pp. 32–59, ISBN 978-0-451-52684-7
- Shippey, Thomas (1970), "Listening to the Nightingale", Comparative Literature (Duke University Press) XXII (1): 46–60
- Doggett, Frank (1974), "Romanticism's Singing Bird", Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 (Rice University) XIV (4): 568
- Doggett, Frank (1974), "Romanticism's Singing Bird", Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 (Rice University) XIV (4): 570
- Bysshe Shelley, Percy (1903), A Defense of Poetry, Boston, MA: Ginn & Company, p. 11
- Diba, Layla S. (2001). "Gol o bolbol". In Yarshater, Ehsan. Encyclopædia Iranica 11. London and New York: Routledge. pp. 52–57. Retrieved 15 November 2013.
- Stedman, Edmund C. (1884), "Keats", The Century, XXVII: 600
- Swinburne, Algernon Charles (1886), "Keats", Miscellanies, New York: Worthington Company, p. 221, retrieved 2008-10-08. Reprinted from the Encyclopædia Britannica.
- The Nightingale
- Ragtime Nightingale
- 1 Kuna Coin. – Retrieved on 31 March 2009.
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Nightingales|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Luscinia megarhynchos.|
- Ageing and sexing (PDF; 3.7 MB) by Javier Blasco-Zumeta & Gerd-Michael Heinze
- High-quality Nightingale sound file, The Freesound Project: (requires free account to download). Retrieved 14 April 2012.
- Nightingale song and behavioural ecology
- Nightingale videos, photos & sounds on the Internet Bird Collection
- Rose and nightingale in Persian art
- Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (British) Nightingale Nightingale, Retrieved June 11, 2007.
- Uncompressed high-quality Nightingale sound file, The Freesound Project, (requires free account to download). Retrieved 14 April 2012.