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Luscinia megarhynchos


The nightingale is russet brown above, dull white tinged with brown below, and has a bright rufous tail and rump. The large, black eyes are adorned with a white ring around each eye. Males and females are similar in appearance, except that males tend to be slightly larger, with larger wingspans. Average length is 6-1/2 inches, average wingspan is 8-3/4 inches. Average weight is 0.75 ounces, but females sometimes weigh more because males have higher metabolic rates due to their tendency to sing.


Distribution and Habitat

The nightingale's breeding range extends from England through western Europe to the Balkans and Asia Minor, and southward to northwestern Africa. It spends its winters in tropical Africa.

Nightingales prefer habitats with mild to warm climates. They are most often found in areas with dense, low thicket growth or woodlands with young trees (preferably hazel) and bare ground underneath.

Habits and Behaviors

This very shy bird seldom emerges from the undergrowth when feeding and is heard more often than seen.

Males do most of their singing from mid-April to mid-June. While they do sing during the day, they are most often heard at night, hence the common name. Nightingale songs can be divided into two categories, whistle songs and non-whistle songs. Whistle songs are distinct and used most often in territorial defense and mate attraction. Males respond aggressively to other males who may be entering their territory. When trying to attract a female, a male will sing for up to 50% of the night. Older males have improved mating success due to their larger song repertoire (180 to 260 song variations) and territory, which attracts females better.

Nightingales are solitary outside of the breeding season. They are territorial, but there are no social hierarchies.


The male begins displaying to females in mid-April by spreading his tail and rapidly moving it up and down and by fluttering his wings with his head dipped. Up to 49% of males may not successfully find a mate. Nightingales are seasonally monogamous.

The bulky nest, built by the female alone, is made of dead leaves, especially oak leaves, and is lined with dead grass and some hair. It is built on or slightly above the ground among brambles and nettles or in hedges. The 4-5 olive-green or olive-brown eggs are incubated by the female alone for 13-14 days, but both parents work to keep the young fed. Fledging occursat 11-12 days, but the parents will continue to feed the young for another 15-30 days.

Nightingales are sexually mature at about a year, and can live up to 5 years.


Nightingales feed primarily on worms, spiders, and insects (especially beetles, the larvae of butterflies and moths, and the pupae of ants), but will take fruits and berries in the autumn. Most feeding is done on the ground.

Scientific Classification

phylum Chordata
subphylum Vertebrata
family Turdidae
genus & species Luscinia megarhynchos

Animal Diversity Web

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This page was last updated on June 11, 2017.