RoyW's picture


Observed: 25th April 2010 By: RoyW
British Dragonfly SocietyLondon Natural History Society
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Not the most spectacular of birds to look at, but many people view the song as something special.

Species interactions

No interactions present.


Kluut's picture

Song - something special?

"Something special" does not come even close to describing the song.
Forget any recording of the song - not even remotely close to real life. Indescribably beautiful and mellow - a sensation beyond description. Late on a warm, still evening the song seems to creep across the ground and wrap itself gently around you.

One thing that surpises many people, especially if they have heard the song, is the size of the bird - they are pretty much the same size (and shape), as a robin - around 20g - about three-quarters of an ounce.

RoyW's picture

It's certainly impressive, but...

Although I know that many disagree with me, my personal opinion is that the song is over-rated.
I would agree that if you are able to it is well worth trying to find somewhere where you can hear them singing in the flesh, and the song is delivered at loud volume and contains an impressive variety of notes. In my opinion the Nightingale song is given an unwarranted status in comparison to the songs of other birds though.

Kluut's picture

Compared to what?

As compared to..........

RoyW's picture

How many examples should I list?

Are these are birds I have heard singing in Britain, and all are just as worth listening to as Nightingale;

Woodlark - a similar variety of phrases and strength of delivery to Nightingale.

Blackbird & Robin - far more melodic than Nightingale, perhaps overlooked because they are so common.

Wren & Sedge Warbler - for speed and strength of delivery (as well as the variety of different notes).

Skylark - for the sheer length of the song, which can seem to just go on & on without a break.

Marsh Warbler & Icterine Warbler - both very rare in Britain but worth a mention because of the amount of mimicry they often include within their songs.

Nightjar - a simpler song, but a personal favourite because of its amazingly hypnotic qualities.

Others could include Swallow, Tree Pipit, Garden Warbler, Grasshopper Warbler and many others.
As I said, it's personal opinion (I wouldn't expect other people to agree to my taste in music produced by humans either!). The birds certainly don't care how much we rate their songs - that's not why they sing!

Kluut's picture

Horses for courses

All very true - I very much like the call of ravens and black-throated divers, and red grouse, and garganey and mistle thrush and.... For sheer spectacle there can be little to beat sitting on a sea-wall or salt-marsh as dusk falls and hundreds of brent geese pass 20-30-40-50 feet above you, all calling in the gloom.
But none of them are going to stop anyone but us anoraks in their tracks for minutes on end.

A few years ago I worked in the same building as a keen amateur golfer. She knew I was "birdie". One day she caught sight of me in a corridor and rushed over -
"Ah the very person. We were playing golf late yesterday evening and.."
"You heard a nightingale"
"What do you mean? You don't even know what I was going to say yet."
"You heard a nightingale"


"The song was beautiful and mellow. It seemed to float across the course and wrap round you, enveloping you like a warm, oily bath"
"Yes, yes, yes, that was it, that is exactly it"

Four people had been stopped, dead in their tracks.

While I am sure that weather and the stage of the singing season, and the hearing apparatus involved will have effects, plus they have little competition once darkness descends, but no other bird song will ever do that to anyone.

Apparently, if you live or holiday in areas of the continent where they are common, the song can be more than a little annoying when you are trying to sleep.

RoyW's picture

I understand what you mean - but disagree

I have seen non birders stopped dead by the songs of other birds. I have also had Nightingales reported to me by non birders who were so amazed by the song they heard late in the evening or at night that they knew it must have been a Nightingale - in many cases further questioning reveals another species is the likely singer.

I will never dispute that many people are amazed by the song of the Nightingale - but I do sometimes wonder how favourably the song of other species would be viewed if they were described as the 'best songsters' as often as Nightingales are.

tootsietim's picture

I shall be putting it to the test.

Years ago I was camping in Switzerland, the campsite surrounded by nightingales all singing through the night. and I really can't say that it moved ne at all, in fact I barely recall it at all. Thus, this spring i am going to listen to them anew, perhaps up at salthouse heath to see what effect it has on me now.
For me, birdsong needs an attachment, a hook as it were to move me. For example the first swift screaching overhead each May, the first skein of pink feet geese, the skylark (possibly my favourite) on a clear spring morning as I dig the garden.
Perhaps I shall be able to add nightingale, as dusk falls on the gorse covered heathlands.

Kluut's picture


I can't imagine the sound of several , or more, competing individuals of any songbird sounds very attractive, whatever the species. The attraction of the dawn chorus is the spectacle and the fleeting solos, not the musicality of the complete event.

I was perhaps very fortunate, when I grew up and spent most of my time outside of school either fishing or roaming the woods and countryside, the army (MOD) lands in particular (mostly a mix of woods, scrub, waste and rough grazing), on the outskirts of the east and south sides of Colchester, had numerous scattered areas of suitable habitat. But I don't recall ever hearing more than one singing male at any one time.

One singing male and a warm, still evening. Not a cacophony akin to the orchestra warming-up.

sirhandle's picture

Very personal debate this. I

Very personal debate this. I love walking into school at 6.30am and being greeted by a blackbird singing it's head off every morning on top of a Rowan tree by the car park. Raises my spirits every morning. Bird, song and context all together make this a personal winner for me.

Just go out there and do it!!!