Although rather indistinct in appearance, the common nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos) is greatly admired for its beautiful melodic songs, which are considered by some to be the finest produced by any bird species (2). Heard to best effect on early summer evenings (3), its famous songs consist of mellow phrases, flute-like sequences, or high quality, rich notes produced in varied, powerful chatters, rattles and whistles (2)(4).
The common nightingale is an otherwise inconspicuous species, with rather secretive, skulking habits and drab, plain brown plumage. The uniform upperparts shade into a brighter red-brown tail and a beige-brown breast (2)(4)(5). The rest of the underparts are whitish and there is a narrow white eye ring, with a poorly defined greyish eye stripe. The bill is dark and the legs are flesh-brown (2).
The male and female common nightingale are similar in appearance, but the juvenile is brown with buff spotting above and buff with relatively weak dark scaling below. The rump and tail of the juvenile are rusty-brown (2).
The common nightingale feeds mainly on a variety of invertebrates, but may also consume berries and seeds in late summer and autumn. It forages within dense cover, often on the ground amongst leaf litter, but will also glean insects from low branches and leaves and drop from a perch onto its prey (2).
Typically returning to the same area to nest each year, the common nightingale breeds between April and July. The nest is a bulky cup of dead leaves and grass, lined with fine grasses, feathers and hair, and is placed in a thicket close to the ground. Usually, 4 or 5 eggs are laid and are incubated for 13 or 14 days. The young fledge at 10 to 12 days, when they move into surrounding cover, learning to fly 3 to 5 days later. The young common nightingales are cared for by both adults for a further 15 to 30 days, although the female may begin incubating a second clutch during this time, leaving the male to care for the first brood alone. The oldest known common nightingale lived to 7 years and 11 months (2).
A migratory species, the common nightingale breeds in northwest Africa, Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia, as far east as northwest China. After the breeding season it migrates southwards to tropical parts of Africa (2).
A rather shy bird, the common nightingale tends to hide in the middle of impenetrable bushes or thickets (4). In Europe, it occurs mainly in open woodland with thickets and dense patches of vegetation, often bordering water bodies, as well as at the edges and in glades of broadleaf woodland and amongst the undergrowth. At its wintering grounds in Africa, the common nightingale may be found in a variety of habitats, including forest edge, secondary growth, riverine and woodland thickets, savanna scrub and thorny scrub (2).
The common nightingale is an abundant species with a large range. There are no known major threats to this species, and it is not currently considered at risk of extinction (6). Its European population is thought to be fairly stable, with increases noted in northeast Europe, probably as declines in livestock grazing in woodlands have increased the amount of available habitat (2)(7).
However, common nightingale populations in western Europe have been in decline since the 1950s, primarily due to modern agricultural developments and a tendency for ‘tidying’ gardens and park woodlands. The population in England is thought to have been in decline since 1910, while the steady loss of nesting habitat along streams and rivers threatens the common nightingale in Spain (2).
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