Nightingales are unassuming birds often mistaken for robins, as they are similar in size, shape and, to some extent, color. During the summer, these birds breed in various regions of Europe and Asia, migrating to Africa for the winter. Nightingales are omnivorous, consuming insects, fruits, nuts, and seeds. With no particular markings and dull, russet feathers, these otherwise plain-looking birds are deceptively fascinating.
The nightingale has been a muse to creative minds for ages. Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle composed works on the sights and sounds of the nightingale. What's more, one of the earliest known poems written in modern English, first appearing in either the 12th or 13th century, was named after its main characters: "The Owl and the Nightingale." Famed poets William Shakespeare, John Keats, and T.S. Eliot followed suit, incorporating the nightingale into their verse, and composers Ludwig van Beethoven and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky took their own inspiration from the bird, in turn.
An Unexpected Song
The nightingale's song isn't revered so much for its beauty as it is for its tendency to surprise. Male nightingales are compared to jazz musicians due to each bird's ability to improvise up to 300 unique songs. Although the Eurasian Blackcaps were once referred to as the "March Nightingalea" due to the fluty nature of their calls, the birds could never compete with the true nightingales' sheer unpredictability in the performance of their tunes.
Nightingales earned their name for their habit of singing during the dark of night as well as the first light of dawn. In fact, the early Anglo-Saxon translation of "nightingale" is "night songstress," indicating that early listeners believed they were hearing the female of the species when, in reality, it is the bachelor male who sings. Over time, the volume of the nightingale's song has noticeably increased, especially in urban areas where the birds attempt to make themselves heard over a cacophony of competing noise.
Nesting and Reproduction
Small and secretive in nature, nightingales make their nests in whatever vegetation -- be it a low-lying tree, thicket, shrub, or bush -- that seems most impenetrable to outsiders. These cup-shaped nests usually are made from blades of grass, twigs, and fallen leaves. After mating in the spring, female nightingales each lay anywhere from two to five eggs that will hatch in little more than two weeks.
- a-z animals: Animals -- Nightingale
- Remarkable Birds: 100 of the World's Most Notable Birds; Steven Moss and BirdLife International
- Europe's Migratory Birds; Ben Fleischman
- The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds: Birds by Name -- Nightingale
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Ruth Nix began her career teaching a variety of writing classes at the University of Florida. She also worked as a columnist and editorial fellow for "Esquire" magazine. In 2012, Nix was featured in the annual "Best New Poets" anthology and received the Calvin A. VanderWerf Award for excellence in teaching from the University of Florida.