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.
- 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.
- 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?