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Luscinia megarhynchos

Luscinia megarhynchos, Photo: Michael Lahanas

Cladus: Eukaryota
Supergroup: Opisthokonta
Regnum: Animalia
Subregnum: Eumetazoa
Cladus: Bilateria
Cladus: Nephrozoa
Cladus: Deuterostomia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Infraphylum: Gnathostomata
Superclassis: Tetrapoda
Classis: Aves
Subclassis: Carinatae
Infraclassis: Neornithes
Parvclassis: Neognathae
Ordo: Passeriformes
Subordo: Passeri
Parvordo: Passerida
Superfamilia: Muscicapoidea
Familia: Muscicapidae
Genus: Luscinia
Species: Luscinia megarhynchos
Subspecies: L. m. africana - L. m. baehrmanni - L. m. hafizi - L. m. megarhynchos


Luscinia megarhynchos (C.L. Brehm, 1831)

Luscinia megarhynchos (*)


Handbuch der Naturgeschichte aller Vogel Deutschlands... p.356

Vernacular names
Česky: Slavík obecný
Ελληνικά : Αηδόνι
Euskara: urretxindor
Türkçe: Bülbül
Vèneto: Rossignòl

The Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos), also known as Rufous and Common Nightingale, is a small passerine bird that was formerly classed as a member of the thrush family Turdidae, but is now more generally considered to be an Old World flycatcher, Muscicapidae. It belongs to a group of more terrestrial species, often called chats.

Range and habitat

It is a migratory insectivorous species breeding in forest and scrub in Europe and south-west Asia, but is not found naturally in the Americas. The distribution is more southerly than the very closely related Thrush Nightingale Luscinia luscinia. It nests on the ground within or next to dense bushes. It winters in southern Africa. At least in the Rhineland (Germany), the breeding habitat of nightingales agrees with a number of geographical parameters.[2]

* less than 400 m (1300 ft) above mean sea level
* mean air temperature during the growing season above 14 °C (57 °F)
* more than 20 days/year on which temperatures exceed 25 °C (77 °F)
* annual precipitation less than 750mm
* aridity index lower than 0.35
* no closed canopy

Appearance and song

The nightingale is slightly larger than the European Robin, at 15–16.5 cm (5.9–6.5 in) length. It is plain brown above except for the reddish tail. It is buff to white below. Sexes are similar. The eastern subspecies L. m. hafizi and L. m. africana have paler upperparts and a stronger face-pattern, including a pale supercilium.

Nightingales are named so because they frequently sing at night as well as during the day. The name has been used for well over 1,000 years, being highly recognizable even in its Anglo-Saxon form - 'nihtingale'. It means 'night songstress'. Early writers assumed the female sang when it is in fact the male. The song is loud, with an impressive range of whistles, trills and gurgles. Its song is particularly noticeable at night because few other birds are singing. This is why its name includes "night" in several languages. Only unpaired males sing regularly at night, and nocturnal song is likely to serve attracting 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 the song is a loud whistling crescendo, absent from the song of Thrush Nightingale. It has a frog-like alarm call.


The nightingale is an important symbol for poets from a variety of ages, and has taken on a number of symbolic connotations. Homer evokes the Nightingale in the Odyssey, suggesting the myth of Philomela and Procne (one of whom, depending on the myth's version, is turned into a nightingale[3] ).[4] This myth is the focus of Sophocles' tragedy, Tereus, of which only fragments remain. Ovid, too, in his Metamorphoses, includes the most popular version of this myth, imitated and altered by later poets, including Chrétien de Troyes, Geoffrey Chaucer, John Gower, and George Gascoigne. T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land" also evokes the Nightingale's song (and the myth of Philomela and Procne).[5] Because of the violence associated with the myth, the nightingale's song was long interpreted as a lament.

The Nightingale has also been used as a symbol of the poet or their poetry.[6] Poets chose the nightingale as a symbol because of its creative and seemingly spontaneous song. Aristophanes' Birds and Callimachus both evoke the bird's song as a form of poetry. Virgil compares a mourning Orpheus to the “lament of the nightingale”.[7] During the Dark Ages fewer references were made to the nightingale. John Milton and others of the 17th century renewed the symbol. In "L'Allegro" Milton characterizes Shakespeare as a nightingale warbling “his native woodnotes wilde” (line 136), and Andrew Marvell in his "On Paradise Lost" subsequently described Milton's Paradise Lost in similar terms:

"Thou sing'st with so much gravity and ease,
And above human flight dost soar aloft,
With plume so strong, so equal, and so soft:
The bird named from that paradise you sing
So never flags, but always keeps on wing" (line 40)

During the Romantic era the bird's symbolism changed once more: poets viewed the nightingale not only as a poet in his own right, but as “master of a superior art that could inspire the human poet”.[8] For some romantic poets, the nightingale even began to take on qualities of the muse. Coleridge and Wordsworth saw the nightingale more as an instance of natural poetic creation: the nightingale became a voice of nature. John Keats' "Ode to a Nightingale" pictures the nightingale as an idealized poet who has achieved the poetry that Keats longs to write. Invoking a similar conception of the nightingale, Shelley wrote in his “A Defense of Poetry":

"A poet is a nightingale who sits in darkness and sings to cheer its own solitude with sweet sounds; his auditors are as men entranced by the melody of an unseen musician, who feel that they are moved and softened, yet know not whence or why.”[9]


* John Keats's "Ode to a Nightingale" has been described as "one of our shorter English lyrics that still seems to me... the nearest to perfection, the one I would surrender last of all"[10] and "one of the final masterpieces of human work in all time and for all ages".[11]
* John Milton's sonnet "To the Nightingale" contrasts the symbolism of the nightingale as a bird for lovers, with the cuckoo as the bird that called when wives were unfaithful to their husbands (or "cuckolded")
* The love of the nightingale for the rose is also widely used, often metaphorically, in Persian literature.[12]
* The beauty of the nightingale's song is a theme in Hans Christian Andersen's story "The Nightingale" from 1843. [1]
* A nightingale is depicted on the reverse of the Croatian 1 kuna coin, minted since 1993.[13]
* A nightingale is used as a symbol for a poet in the song Jokerman, composed by Bob Dylan, potentially to reflect Dylan's feeling that he is merely a poet and his public image has been taken to be mistakenly more than that.

In popular culture

* In series 8 of the British spy drama Spooks, the spooks try to stop an organization called Nightingale which is planning to make a war break out between India and Pakistan to prevent a future where the Taliban would take control of Pakistan and its nuclear arsenal.


1. ^ BirdLife International (2004). Luscinia megarhynchos. 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. www.iucnredlist.org. Retrieved on 12 May 2006. Database entry includes justification for why this species is of least concern
2. ^ (German) Wink, Michael (1973): " Die Verbreitung der Nachtigall (Luscinia megarhynchos) im Rheinland". Charadrius 9(2/3): 65-80. (PDF)
3. ^ Salisbury, Joyce E. (2001), Women in the ancient world, ABC-CLIO, p. 276, ISBN 9781576070925, http://books.google.com/books?id=HF0m3spOebcC&pg=PA276
4. ^ Chandler, Albert R. (1934), "The Nightingale in Greek and Latin Poetry", The Classic Journal (The Classical Association of the Middle West and South, Inc.) XXX (2): 78–84, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3289944
5. ^ Eliot, T.S. (1964), The Waste Land and Other Poems (Signet Classic ed.), New York, NY: Penguin Group, pp. 32–59, ISBN 978-0-451-52684-7
6. ^ Shippey, Thomas (1970), "Listening to the Nightingale", Comparative Literature (Duke University Press) XXII (1): 46–60, http://www.jstor.org/pss/1769299
7. ^ Doggett, Frank (1974), "Romanticism's Singing Bird", Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 (Rice University) XIV (4): 568, http://www.jstor.org/stable/449753
8. ^ Doggett, Frank (1974), "Romanticism's Singing Bird", Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 (Rice University) XIV (4): 570, http://www.jstor.org/stable/449753
9. ^ Bysshe Shelley, Percy (1903), A Defense of Poetry, Boston, MA: Ginn & Company, p. 11
10. ^ Stedman, Edmund C. (1884), "Keats", The Century XXVII: 600, http://books.google.com/?id=XLWqByOcRjwC&pg=PA600
11. ^ Swinburne, Algernon Charles (1886), "Keats", Miscellanies, New York: Worthington Company, pp. 221, http://books.google.com/?id=UHsRAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA211, retrieved 2008-10-08 . Reprinted from the Encyclopædia Britannica.
12. ^ "The Rose and nightingale in Persian literature". Archived from the original on 2008-01-22. http://web.archive.org/web/20080122005248/http://www.iranica.com/articles/v11f1/v11f1034.html.
13. ^ Croatian National Bank. Kuna and Lipa, Coins of Croatia: 1 Kuna Coin. – Retrieved on 31 March 2009.

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