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(Common) Nightingale

Nightingale
Both sexes: Plain brown but paler underneath.
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Nightingales are usually skulking among hedges and scrub, but if seen are remarkably disappointing as they are plain brown with paler underparts. Their song, however, is far from disappointing, in fact, it is outstanding.

The Nightingale's plumage is plain brown with a reddish-brown rump and tail. The throat is whitish and the underparts are grey-brown. The large black eye is made more prominent by a pale eye-ring. The bill is dark brown and the legs flesh coloured.

They are larger than a Robin with which it can be confused:

  • At a distance, both Robins and Nightingales behave similarly, e.g. flicking the wings, cocking their heads, etc.
  • Juvenile Nightingales are remarkably similar to juvenile Robins - brown, spotted and mottled.
  • The melodious song of the Robin, especially in urban areas at night time, has been incorrectly attributed in literature and songs, such as "A Nightingale Sang in Berkley Square", to that of the Nightingale.

In flight, Nightingales look like Redstarts but these have paler red tails with a dark centre.


Scientific Name Luscinia megarhychos
Length 14 cm (5½")
Wing Span 20-22.5 cm (8-9")
Weight 15-23 g (½-¾ oz)
Breeding Pairs 5500
Present Summer
Status Amber

Distribution map - when and where you are most likely to see the species.

Voice

The beautiful song is remarkable, being powerful, melodious, sweet, rich and varied.

The alarm call is a croaking "krrr".

Song

© Jean Roché, www.sittelle.com
Alarm Call

© Jean Roché, www.sittelle.com

Feeding

Insects form the greater part of the Nightingale's diet, which it finds mostly on the ground. In the autumn they will eat berries.

Nesting

The nest is usually sited on the ground among leaf litter and twigs in undergrowth among dense shrubbery in woods, coppices, orchards and gardens. The nest is constructed by the female from dead leaves and grass, and lined with fine grasses and hair.

The smooth, glossy eggs are olive-brown and about 21 mm by 15 mm. Incubation is by the female only. The young are fed by both parents.

Breeding Starts Clutches Eggs Incubation (days) Fledge (days)
mid-May 1 4-5 13-14 11-12

Movements

The Nightingale is a scarce summer visitor to southern England (roughly south of a line from the Humber to the Severn). They usually arrive in April and leave around August to September. They winter in central tropical Africa.

Conservation

In Britain, the Nightingale is at the northern limit of its breeding range, but the decline in coppicing, changes in woodland management, increased grazing by deer and colder and wetter springs have contracted both the breeding range and population.

Additionally, the Nightingale may be struggling on its wintering grounds (Africa).

Consequently, the Nightingale is an Amber List species.