Nightingale (Imcinia philomela, Bonap.; the philomela of the ancients and rossignol of the French), one of the finest of European singing birds, whose melody has been celebrated from time immemorial'. The genus belongs to the subfamily of warblers, from which it differs principally in its more slender shape and longer bill, tarsi, and tail; it comes near many of the smaller thrushes both in form and color, and in the character of the song. In this genus the bill is short and straight, with the culmen slightly curved, sides compressed, and tip emarginated; the gape without bristles; the wings moderate, with the first quill one third the length of the second, and the third the longest; the tail moderate, rounded at the sides; tarsi long and strong, covered in front with an entire scale; toes very long and slender, the outer longer than the inner and united at the base; hind toe long, with a curved claw. The length is 6£ in., the extent of wings 10i, and the bill about ½ in. The nightingale is very plainly colored; the upper parts are rich brown, with a reddish tinge on the back and tail; below grayish brown, with the throat and abdomen whitish; the female is like the male in color, and is nearly of the same size; there is considerable variation in the reddish and grayish tints, and in the occurrence of white feathers.
They begin to appear in the middle of France about the first week in April, and in England a week or ten days later; the males arrive a few days before the females, travelling singly and at night; they get mated in about a week, and commence their nests on the ground in thickets; these are rudely made of leaves and grasses, and the four or five eggs, ¾ by 7/12 in., are of a pale brownish color, sometimes tinged with grayish blue, especially at the small end; both sexes incubate. It is a migratory bird, passing the winter in northern Africa, but in the summer found over the greater part of Europe, even to Sweden and temperate Russia; it is said not to be found in Great Britain north of the Tweed. They begin to sing when mated, and continue in full song till the young are hatched; the notes are most rich at the beginning of summer, and toward the end the song becomes a single low croaking note. They arc very shy, remaining concealed as much as possible among the foliage; they frequent woods, hedges, and thickets, feeding on insects and larvae-, soft berries, and fruits; the flight is short, even, and swift, but not so rapid as that of the true warblers and flycatchers which seize insects on the wing.
Though the song is heard at intervals during the day, it excites the greatest admiration on quiet evenings an hour or two after sunset; when the moon is nearly full and the weather is serene and still, it may be heard till midnight, and is then exceedingly pleasing. Virgil and other classical poets, from the melancholy character of part of its song, call it miserabile carmen. Its natural song is certainly very sweet, but not more so, in the opinion of Audubon, than that of the black-capped warbler, and but little if at all superior to that of the woodlark; the song of the skylark is far more spirited, more prolonged, and of much greater compass, though less sweet; the notes of the American mocking bird are very much sweeter, more varied, of greater compass, power, and duration; and many birds which naturally have no song, like the bullfinch, can be taught to sing in perfect time and tune, which the nightingale cannot. But, take it as a whole, it is superior at least to that of all British songsters. The compass of its song is only 11 or 12 notes. (See Macgillivray's "British Birds," vol. ii., p. 331, London, 1839.) The males only sing, and, like other migratory birds, never during the winter in cages, and not till after the spring moult.
They are short-lived in captivity from being kept too warm and from improper food; this should he chiefly insects, or small bits of meat and fruits.
Nightingale (Luscinia pliilomela).