Meet the nightingale

Common nightingale. Retrieved from Wikipedia on 03/03/2022.

There is a lot going on right now, and I’m personally feeling a little off lately. You know, just feeling very tired and tearing up easily at random things like commercials. All the classic “your mind is dealing with a lot of stress and anxiety” stuff.

But although it can be beneficial to limit your news intake, I also don’t want to ignore it completely. And I like theming these posts so they are related somewhat to what’s going on in the world.

With that in mind, I would like to talk to you all this week about a Ukrainian icon, the common nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos).

  • The night songstress
    • Nightingales get their names because they sing at, you guessed it, night. In fact, people have been captivated by the nightingale’s nighttime song for centuries. Just take a look at its Old English name, nihtegale. This term means “night songstress,” and you can probably see where we got the name “nightingale” from this word.
Photo by Rob Zweers on Flickr.
  • Plain bird
    • Although they’re easy to hear, nightingales are surprisingly hard to spot. They are brown birds that are only slightly bigger than a robin. Nightingales also prefer to nest near the ground in dense shrubs and vegetation. Between their plain coloration and nesting preferences, you are much more likely to hear a nightingale than see one.
  • It’s singing time
    • Nightingales sing both at night and during the day. Like many birds, it’s primarily the male nightingales that sing, not the females. Their song is used to attract mates – only unpaired males sing regularly at night. When they’re searching for mates, males are singing A LOT; they will sing for up to 50% of the night and will even lose weight each night from singing so much. Once a male successfully attracts a female, he will stop singing at night and change their songs from “whistle” songs to “non-whistle” songs. These non-whistle songs are quieter and less likely to be heard by predators, so a male can keep his nest under the radar by switching to these songs.
  • Large repertoire
    • Nightingales have an extremely large song repertoire. They are able to produce over 1000 different sounds and have a song repertoire of 180 to 260 song variations. Compare that to skylarks and blackbirds, which only produce 340 and 100 sounds, respectively. The size of a nightingale’s repertoire also depends on their age. Older males have a 50% larger song repertoire than younger males. Nightingale songs are particularly noticeable at night because it’s when few other birds are singing.
Singing nightingale. Photo by Noel Reynolds on Flickr.
  • Radio superstar
    • Nightingale song was the first ever birdsong to be broadcast live over the radio. Beatrice Harrison was a cellist from Oxted, Surrey, in the U.K. She practiced her cello outside of her house and noticed a nightingale would seem to respond to her playing. She asked the BBC to record the interaction between cello and bird. They eventually agreed, and on May 19, 1924, Harrison’s cello and a singing nightingale became the first live wildlife broadcast on the radio. Harrison would continue to play with the nightingale and broadcast their music every year until 1942, when the tradition was broken because of World War II and the threat of bombers. You can hear a recording of Harrison and the nightingale here.
  • Culturally important
    • The nightingale is culturally important in and a symbol of Ukraine. It’s known as an image of sweet sounds, a builder of homes, and a harbinger of spring. In addition, the Ukrainian word for nightingale, soloveiko, is also a term of personal endearment.
    • One Ukrainian legend tells of a time when nightingales only lived in India. One day, a nightingale visited Ukraine. The people there were only singing sad songs, so the nightingale sang its own song to cheer them up. The people responded with their own happy songs, and nightingales return to Ukraine every spring to hear the Ukrainian songs.

I find nightingales absolutely lovely, and I hope you do too. They are such a wonderful symbol of spring.

I also want to take a second to acknowledge the bias present in the media coverage and how we talk about the Ukraine-Russia War. This is by no means meant to dismiss the awfulness in what is happening in Ukraine. But as other news articles have stated before me, we seem to be talking about Ukraine differently than we are over similar military strikes in the Middle East and Afghanistan. People are presenting Ukraine as different because somehow suffering and displacement is more upsetting when it happens to Europeans than when it happens to others.

Like I said, I don’t want to dismiss what is happening in Ukraine. But I think this is a good chance for us to check how we talk about conflicts in different areas, and how the racial make-up of those areas affects how we discuss the impacts of war.

Because after all, don’t we all deserve to listen to the nightingales in peace, regardless of the color of our skin?


Internet Encyclopedia of Ukraine

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Critter Facts


Animal Diversity Web

A – Z Animals

2 responses to “Meet the nightingale”

  1. Paul and Marie Schaefer Avatar
    Paul and Marie Schaefer

    Enjoyed seeing the pictures, hearing the song and learning about the nightingale!

    Am a little puzzled about the unfair media reporting on wars. What was not reported?

    Looking forward to your next post.


    1. Hi Marie!

      I’m glad you liked the nightingale; I thought the video with the cello playing was super cool!

      As far as media bias, this is something that a lot of people have talked about better than me. But the gist is that media outlets have been discussing the war in Ukraine differently than they have discussed similar situations in places like the Middle East. For instance, saying it’s shocking that this is happening in a “civilized” country, which insinuates that Iraq and Afghanistan are “uncivilized.” Or one presenter describing Ukrainians as “prosperous middle-class people,” “obviously not refugees fleeing the Middle East or North Africa.”

      The Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association explained it well in a recent statement they made: “This type of commentary reflects the pervasive mentality in Western journalism of normalizing tragedy in parts of the world such as the Middle East, Africa, South Asia, and Latin America. It dehumanizes and renders their experience with war as somehow normal and expected.”

      In other words, a lot of journalists (and members of the public as well!) are desensitized to the idea of war and the Middle East. We subconsciously link the idea of war and violence with the Middle East, and so don’t see it as surprising when the same sorts of bombings and refugee crises occurring in Ukraine are happening there.

      I hope that makes sense! I thought it was an interesting opportunity to explore some of the biases the media has and we ourselves have. Honestly, before I thought about it, I personally was feeling more upset about Ukraine than I was about, say, Syria or Afghanistan. But at the end of the day, isn’t war anywhere a tragedy?

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