The common nightingale bird, also known as the rufous nightingale, European nightingale, Eurasian nightingale, or simply nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos) is a type of small passerine bird belonging to the genus Luscinia in the family Muscicapidae.
It has a native range in Europe and parts of Asia where it is not uncommon and has been introduced into Australia and North America. Like all other typical members of the Old World flycatcher family Muscicapidae, this small passerine bird is an insectivore that builds nests in natural or artificial cavities in trees or cliffs.
It’s one of the most common birds in Europe and one of the best-known songbirds in that region. This species was originally found all across Europe and western Asia, but it has declined rapidly due to habitat loss, predation by cats and other animals, and hunting in recent centuries.
A common nightingale bird has attractive songs which have been extensively used by humans, particularly since the advent of its domestication as the cagebird.
Common nightingale scientific name
The scientific name of the common nightingale bird is Luscinia megarhynchos
Where do nightingales live (Range and habitat)?
The common nightingale is a migratory insectivorous species that is widespread in Europe and Asia east to Iran, and parts of Africa. Its natural habitats are temperate forests, Mediterranean-type shrubby vegetation, and arable land. It is common near human habitation.
The range has been expanding northwards in recent decades to about 58°N today. The nightingale is found in a wide variety of wooded habitats, including both deciduous and evergreen forests.
In some areas, it prefers dense forest with thick undergrowth while at other times it will live in small woodlands or even gardens with bushes and hedges for cover. In winter it may move into nearby lowland scrub or farmland where there are bushes for shelter.
Common Nightingale size and weight
The common Nightingale is a small passerine bird, typically 14 to 17 cm (5.5 to 6.7 inches) long, with a wingspan between 20 and 24 cm (7.9 and 9.5 inches), and weighing around 18 to 23 g (0.6 to 0.8 oz). Due to the higher metabolic rates and energy expenditure associated with singing, males tend to be slightly larger than females on average, but they weigh lesser.
What do nightingales look like?
The common nightingale has a plain warm brown color on the upper part of the adult, shading into a rusty brown on the tail and rump. Depending on the light, flight feathers appear rufous.
With a sandy-buff wash on the breast and flanks, the underparts are pale buffy-white.
Rusty browns surround the nape, forecrown, and crown of the head. A pale greyish supercilium can be seen indistinctly. It has a whitish throat and chin.
Despite its black color, the bill is pinkish at its base. The dark brown eyes are surrounded by narrow white eyering. It is flesh-colored to brownish on the legs and feet. There are buff spots on the head and body of the juvenile. There are rusty-brown feathers on the rump, tail, and flight feathers. There is a paler appearance to the bill, legs, and feet than in adults.
In order to replace their feathers, birds must molt. This process is different for each species of bird. For instance, unlike most other birds, common nightingales lose all their flight feathers at once; they do not grow new ones while keeping old ones in place until they are fully developed.
Molting occurs naturally on a regular basis; however, in some cases, molting may be triggered by environmental changes like drought or fluctuating temperatures and seasons.
A bird’s body has two major types of feathers: contour and coverts. Contour feathers include those that cover much of a bird’s body, such as its wing and tail feathers. Coverts are smaller feathers that help protect contour feathers from damage caused by wind, rain, or sunlight exposure.
During molting periods, these smaller feathers fall out first before larger contour feather replacement begins.
The common nightingale bird makes its nest using grass and twigs. The male and female work together to build a new nest each year, building it on top of an older one from past years.
They tend to build their nests in trees that are close to water or other sources of food for them. When they are ready to lay eggs, they will create a hollow in their nests where they will lay four or five eggs.
What do nightingales eat?
In addition to foraging on the ground, common nightingale birds glean on low branches, leaves, and branches for food. To find food, they hop around leaf litter. They can hunt from perches and drop to catch their prey on the ground or chase insects on the wing.
All year long, they eat mainly invertebrates (including beetles and ants). In late summer and early autumn, they eat berries and seeds.
An average of 89% ant and 9% beetle were found in the stomachs of eleven breeding birds from Crimea, as well as a mollusk, a millipede, and a woodlouse. Caterpillars, flies, spiders, and earthworms are also taken.
Common nightingale sound and vocal behavior
A seemingly endless variety of compositions are formed by strung-together phrases to form a song. The composition itself may be the most magnificent aspect of the song.
Occasionally, the electric pauses seem as recognizable as vocalizations.
There is something truly captivating about the Nightingale’s high-pitched ‘whining’ and ‘piping’ notes that draw you into its phrases. Suddenly, the intensity increases to a ‘flutey’ crescendo before changing to a guttural ‘chug chug chug’ interspersed with an insect-like buzzing.
I can’t think of another song that feels quite as improvised as this one. Due to its sheer diversity, however, it makes it extremely difficult to transliterate, but perhaps the most distinctive sounds are the repetitive whistles that sound like human voices, “lu lu lu lu.”
Stunning precision combined with fiery energy, compelling restraint, and theatrical drama makes it a marvelously inventive performance.
A typical song phrase lasts no longer than a few seconds, usually with an equal-length pause between them.
How do nightingales breed?
The common nightingale forms a couple only once a year and is serially monogamous. The breeding season for these birds in Europe lasts from late April to mid-July. The breeding season becomes very territorial, with males aggressively defending their nest territories. Birds build their nests in dense vegetation on the ground or nearby.
Using dead leaves and grass, the nest is shaped like an open cup. A female lays four to five eggs and incubates them for around 13 to 14 days; the male provides her food during this time. Born helpless, the chicks are fed by their parents for 10 to 12 days before they fly away.
Upon reaching reproductive maturity one year later, they become fully independent.
Common nightingale lifespan
A common nightingale has an average lifespan of five years.
Movements and migration
The common nightingale bird is a migratory species. Every year, they travel to warmer climates or regions that have plenty of resources such as food and water. They are not fussy eaters, so they will gladly move to locations with abundant sources of nutrition.
They typically travel in groups so that they can protect one another from predators and harsh weather conditions. Some populations remain in their region throughout the year while others migrate southwards during winter months.
Diseases and threats
The common nightingale has become extremely rare or extinct in much of Western Europe. It is a migratory bird and numbers have declined sharply in recent decades, at least partly due to changes in agricultural practices. Some populations are stable, especially those close to Asia, where trapping for food or collection of feathers as trophies have probably not occurred since before 1950.
The primary threats it faces across most of its European range are urbanization and habitat loss due to farming intensification. On migration, birds can be killed by collisions with man-made structures such as power lines and buildings.
Breeding birds can be killed by cats, collisions with vehicles, poisoning from pesticides used to control rodents, shooting, or being caught in leg-hold traps set for other animals.
The IUCN Red List estimates that there are between 43,000,000 and 81,000,000 mature Nightingales in the world. European breeding populations range from 10,700,000 to 20,300,000 pairs, translating into 21,500,000 to 40,500,000 mature birds.
On the Red List of the IUCN, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) and its numbers have remained stable over the past few years.
Conservation and management
In Europe, where it was formerly common but has declined significantly due to habitat loss and hunting, it has been protected since 1979; however, its conservation status varies from country to country within Europe.
Common nightingale is also protected under Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which means that international trade in specimens or parts is only permitted with a permit.
The European population was estimated at between 3 million and 5 million birds in 2004, making it one of the most abundant bird species on Earth.