Luscinia megarhynchoscommon nightingale

Geographic Range

Common nightingales (Luscinia megarhynchos) have a large geographic range. They are native to, and widely distributed in, central and southern Europe and central Asia. Locally distributed in the British Isles, they are more commonly seen in France, Italy, and Spain during the summer when they nest. Common nightingales prefer milder and warmer climates than their close relatives, thrush nightingales (Luscinia luscinia). During the winter, common nightingales migrate to the tropics of northern and central Africa, including western Sahara, Egypt, Cote d'Ivoire, Kenya, Cameroon, and Nigeria, among others. ("Luscinia Megarhynchos", 1999; "Luscinia Megarhynchos", 2007; Uri, 2002)


Common nightingales typically prefer habitats with mild to warm climates. They can be found in areas with dense, low thicket growth or woodlands with young trees and bare ground underneath. They prefer habitats with coppiced tree species, and are most often found in hazel trees. This is ideal for Luscinia megarhynchos because it provides a good hiding place from predators while allowing them to search for food and make nests safely. Due to the recent decline in the population of common nightingales in England, researchers have investigated whether a cutback of suitable habitats may have caused the decline. Various factors, including climate change, changes in the quality of habitats, the introduction of Reeve's muntjacs (Muntiacus reevesi), and the re-introduction of roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) have all contributed to population declines in Britain. Reeve's muntjacs and roe deer graze in the woods typically inhabited by common nightingales, which reduces the density of shrubs. (Hewson, et al., 2005; Mead, 1998; Wilson, et al., 2002)

Physical Description

Common nightingales are rather plain in appearance compared to their remarkable singing abilities. They are slightly larger than European robins (Erithacus rubecula) and their body is brown in color except on the underside, where the feathers become lighter. They have broad, chestnut colored tails, and large, black eyes which 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. However, females sometimes weigh more because males have higher metabolic rates due to their tendency to sing. ("Luscinia Megarhynchos", 1999; "Nightingale", 2008; Faye, 2008; Mead, 1998; Robinson, 2008; Thomas, 2002)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    18 to 23 g
    0.63 to 0.81 oz
  • Average mass
    21 g
    0.74 oz
  • Range length
    14 to 17 cm
    5.51 to 6.69 in
  • Average length
    16.5 cm
    6.50 in
  • Range wingspan
    20 to 24 cm
    7.87 to 9.45 in
  • Average wingspan
    22.5 cm
    8.86 in


One of the most notable characteristics of common nightingales is their beautiful singing ability, especially by male birds. Common nightingales are well known for singing during the night, hence their name. Older males have improved mating success due to their larger song repertoire and territory, which attracts females better. They are reported to have a 53% larger song repertoire than younger males, and the repertoire is reported to consist of approximately 180 to 260 song variations. Researchers have not discovered yet why song repertoire increases so dramatically in older males. Upon mating successfully, males change the types of their songs by reducing their whistle songs, which are used to attract females, and ceasing their nocturnal songs until their mate lays eggs. (Kiefer, et al., 2006; Kunc, et al., 2005; Kunc, et al., 2006a; Kunc, et al., 2006b; Schmidt, et al., 2006; Thomas, 2002)

The mating season is a highly competitive time for common nightingales. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to sing and male songs may reflect their body condition, resulting in female selection of the best singers (Schmidt et al., 2005). More aggressively singing males will have a better chance of mating success. Up to 49% of males may not successfully find a mate. Males defend their nest territory very aggressively, fighting and chasing away trespassing birds. (Kiefer, et al., 2006; Kunc, et al., 2005; Kunc, et al., 2006a; Kunc, et al., 2006b; Rothenberg, 2005; Schmidt, et al., 2006)

Common nightingales are seasonally monogamous. ("Nightingale", 2008; Robinson, 2008)

Breeding in common nightingales takes place around mid-May each year. Nests are usually set up by the female among the twigs found in dense shrubs, using dried leaves and grass. Incubation lasts approximately thirteen to fourteen days by the female. Each egg is 21 by 16 mm, weighing 2.7 g, of which 6% is the shell. Common nightingales reach sexual maturity at the age of one. ("Nightingale", 2008; Robinson, 2008)

  • Breeding interval
    Common nightingales breed from May through June. First clutches can be expected around May 13th.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding typically occurs between May 5th and June 6th.
  • Range eggs per season
    4 to 5
  • Average eggs per season
  • Range time to hatching
    13 to 14 days
  • Average time to hatching
    13.75 days
  • Range fledging age
    11 to 13 days
  • Average fledging age
    11.98 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 years

Before the eggs hatch, the female incubates the eggs, and both parents project the eggs from predators. When the eggs hatch, both parents take care of the offspring by feeding and nurturing them until they can survive on their own. The fledgling period lasts between 11 to 13 days. (Robinson, 2008)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female


Common nightingale typical lifespan ranges from one to five years. The oldest recorded age is at 8 years and 4 months old. Although little is known about what typically limits the lifespan of common nightingales, there is no doubt that predation and habitat reduction contribute to the relatively short lifespan. There has been no recorded lifespan of a nightingale in captivity. ("Common Nightingale", 2008; Rothenberg, 2005)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    1 to 8 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    5 years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    1 to 5 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    3.8 years


Common nightingales are solitary outside of the breeding season. They migrate to the African tropics in the winter. Common nightingales are territorial, but there are no social hierarchies. Males become even more territorial during mating season, when they engage in song contests to attract females. Common 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 (Kiefer et al., 2006). Males respond aggressively to other males who may be entering their territory.

Not much is known about common nightingale behavior because they are small and prefer to hide in thick scrubs. Unless migrating, they fly only short distances, from branch to branch. It is more common for people to hear them than see them. (Kiefer, et al., 2006; Kunc, et al., 2006a)

Home Range

Home range sizes are not known in common nightingales. (Kiefer, et al., 2006; Kunc, et al., 2006a)

Communication and Perception

Common nightingales communicate with others by singing whistle and non-whistle songs. Whistle songs are used during breeding season. The number of whistle songs decrease when males successfully mate. When trying to attract a female, a male will sing for up to 50% of the night. Males lose weight each night when they sing (Thomas, 2002). There are several metabolic consequences to singing at night, one of which is that common nightingales must spend time during the day looking for food in order to build up a larger body reserve, thereby giving up the time that it could take to sing and increasing the chance of being seen by predators. (Kunc, et al., 2005; Kunc, et al., 2006a; Kunc, et al., 2006b; Thomas, 2002)

Food Habits

Common nightingales are primarily insectivores, preying on insects such as beetles, ants, worms, and spiders found on the ground. They also eat insect larvae. In the autumn common nightingales sometimes eat berries and other fruits. ("Nightingale", 2008; Mead, 1998; Robinson, 2008)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • terrestrial worms
  • Plant Foods
  • fruit


The major known predators of common nightingales are tawny owls, Strix aluco. In order to decrease their risk of predation, common nightingales tend to reduce the amount and volume of night time singing when not actively attracting mates. (Rothenberg, 2005)

Ecosystem Roles

Common nightingales, like many songbirds, play an important role in the ecosystem by eating insects that may damage leaves and the growth of trees. Tawny owls prey on common nightingales. (Rothenberg, 2005)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Many people are fans of common nightingale songs. These birds are important in western European culture. Perhaps one of the most famous roles is in the John Keats poem, "Ode to a Nightingale," in which the poet describes the beauty of a nightingale's song. Tchaikovsky was said to be inspired by the nightingale's song while composing "The Nightingale", op. 60 no. 4. Stravinsky also composed a piece referring to the nightingale's song in "Song of the Nightingale and Chinese March". Including research and education, common nightingales are important for birdwatchers and people who appreciate the beauty of their songs. ("Nightingale", 2008)

  • Positive Impacts
  • research and education

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of Luscinia megarhynchos on humans.

Conservation Status

Changes in common nightingale habitat quality and quantity in Britain has resulted in a decline in the local population over the last two decades. The decline is also affected by predation pressure and introduction of non-native species such as roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) which graze in nightingale habitat. Also, while common nightingales prefer a mild climate, Britain's climate has recently become colder and wetter, which also contributes to the population decline. There has been speculation that these birds are facing problems in their wintering grounds due to changes in climate and habitat as well. According to The State of Europe’s Common Birds 2007 report, common nightingales experienced a 63% population decline in Europe between 1980 and 2005. Due to their importance in Britain, common nightingales have been placed on the Amber List. ("Common bird study reveals further decline of Europe's farmland birds", 2007; "Luscinia Megarhynchos", 2007; "Nightingale", 2008; Hewson, et al., 2005; Mead, 1998; Wilson, et al., 2002)

Other Comments

Common nightingales, Luscinia megarhynchos, are also known as rufous nightingales. They are the national birds of Iran. (Faye, 2008)


Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Hyo Song (author), University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Kevin Omland (editor, instructor), University of Maryland, Baltimore County.



living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map


living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.


Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


an animal that mainly eats fruit


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


active during the night


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


lives alone


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


uses sight to communicate


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1999. "Luscinia Megarhynchos" (On-line). BirdGuides. Accessed April 01, 2008 at

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Robinson, R. 2008. "BTO Birdfacts - Nightingale" (On-line). BirdFacts: profiles of birds occurring in Britain & Ireland. Accessed April 22, 2008 at

Rothenberg, D. 2005. Why Birds Sing: A Journey Through the Mystery of Bird Song. New York: Basic Books. Accessed April 22, 2008 at,M1.

Schmidt, R., H. Kunc, V. Amrhein, M. Naguib. 2006. Responses to interactive playback predict future mating success in nightingales. Animal Behaviour, 72: 1355-1362. Accessed April 20, 2008 at

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Uri, G. 2002. "Common Nightingale" (On-line). Stamps of Israeli Birds. Accessed April 09, 2008 at

Wilson, A., A. Henderson, R. Fuller. 2002. Status of the Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos in Britain at the End of the 20th Century with Particular Reference to Climate Change. Bird Study, 49: 193-204. Accessed April 01, 2008 at