The Nightingale is a small insectivorous bird best known for its powerful and beautiful song. It belongs to a group of more terrestrial species, often called chats. The nightingale is plain brown above except for the reddish tail and is buff to white below. The male and female are similar in appearance. The song of this secretive bird has been described as one of the most beautiful sounds in nature, inspiring songs, fairy tales, opera, books, and a great deal of poetry.
Nightingales are migratory birds that breed in Europe, Asia, and northwest Africa, and winter in sub-Saharan Africa. They inhabit forests, open woodlands with thickets often along water bodies, and shrubland. They can also be found in suburban gardens and parks.
Nightingales are solitary birds that are active during the day. They are very shy and often hide in thick scrubs or bushes. These birds forage on the ground hopping around searching for food items in the leaf litter or glean on low branches and leaves. Sometimes they may hunt from perch and dropping to catch their prey on the ground or pursue insects on the wing. Nightingales sing mainly during the night but can also be heard in the daytime. Their song is loud, with an impressive range of whistles, trills, and gurgles. Only unpaired males sing regularly at night, and nocturnal song probably serves 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 their song is a loud whistling crescendo. When disturbed nightingales produce a frog-like warning call.
Nightingales are carnivores (insectivores) and herbivores (frugivores, granivores). They feed on beetles, gnats, ants, caterpillars, flies, small worms, spiders and larvae. In autumn these birds supplement their diet with berries and seeds.
Nightingales are serially monogamous and pairs form only for one breeding season. In Europe, they breed between late April and mid-July. Nightingales become very territorial during the breeding season and males aggressively defend their nest territory. Pairs nest on or near the ground in dense vegetation. The nest is an open cup structure made with dead leaves and grass. The female lays 4-5 olive-green eggs and incubates them within 13 to 14 days; the male during this time provides her with food. They are born helpless and are fed by their parents about 10 to 12 days; at this time the chicks fledge and ready to leave the nest. They become completely independent 15 to 30 days later and reach reproductive maturity one year of age.
Nightingales are not currently threatened; however, they suffer from habitat loss due to agricultural development and are also sensitive to climate changes.
According to the IUCN Red List, the total Nightingale population size is around 43,000,000-81,000,000 mature individuals. In Europe, the breeding population consists of 10,700,000-20,300,000 pairs, which equates to 21,500,000-40,500,000 mature individuals. Overall, currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are stable.
Nightingales play an important role in their ecosystem. Due to their diet habits, these birds control populations of various insects that may damage leaves and the growth of trees and bushes.