The nightingale is a small songbird known for its distinctive pleasant vocalizations. The bird's song has caused it to be mentioned in poems by John Keats and also influenced Russian composer Peter Tchaikovsky's "The Nightingale." It is a member of the Turdidae family and related to other songbirds like thrushes, blackbirds and robins.
In contrast to its colorful song, the bird itself is somewhat plain in appearance. It grows to just over 6 inches tall with a wingspan of around 9 inches and weighs up to 3/4 oz. It is a slender bird with thin, short legs and a short, pointed beak. The bird is brown in color with a slightly lighter colored underside. Male and female appear identical except males are slightly larger on average.
Range and Habitat
The nightingale has a wide range due to its migration patterns. During the summer it is found in parts of Europe such as France, Italy and the U.K. as well as in areas of Asia. In the winter months the birds migrate to the tropics and are found in several African countries such as Kenya and Egypt. It is a shy bird and prefers to live in places with plenty of cover such as thick woodland with dense undergrowth. Activity by grazing animals such as deer clearing the undergrowth contributes to declining nightingale numbers.
Diet and Predators
The nightingale is mainly an insectivore, eating small insects such as ants, beetles, larvae, spiders and worms. Seasonally, during the fall, the birds also eat a small amount of fruit and berries. The birds avoid predators by hiding in trees and thick shrubs and also tend not to vocalize much after dark unless they're attracting a mate. Other than the risk from domestic cats the main predator of the nightingale is the tawny owl.
During the mating season the male birds sing regularly to attract females with the older males having the most complex songs. The breeding season is May through June with the female laying around four to five eggs per season. Both parents protect the eggs with incubation taking around two weeks. The chicks are fed by both parents and able to leave the nest after around 13 days. The birds reach sexual maturity at about a year old and live for around three to four years on average.