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Aiguamolls de L'Empordà, Cataluña, Spain, June, 2022.

The Bird

A plain brown bird with a pale eyering and rusty-brown tail, best known for its rich, powerful song which can keep people awake when given at night. In areas of overlap, compare with extremely similar Thrush Nightingale; note the present species’ unmarked pale underparts, often with a variable buffy wash, as well as its warmer-toned back and brighter rufous tail.


The Common Nightingale migrates between Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa, taking even a few months to travel from the northern European breeding grounds to the wintering ones. Birds from southern Europe either migrate or become residents, as there is plenty of food all year round.


Their wintering locations are not as well known as the breeding ones, until May 2009. That year a researcher from the British Trust of Ornithology managed to fit a geolocator on birds in Norfolk, East Great Britain, which recorded the times of sunrise and sunset. These daylight times could be analysed to calculate both latitude and longitude, from respective day length and local time of sunrise and sunset. To get the data back, the geolocator must be recollected, as it didn’t transmit this data via satellite, meaning the bird must be re-catched. Will it come back to the same spot? Well, it did! In 2010 the bird has been caught again just 50 yards away from where it’s been captured the previous year, and the data was astonishing. Even if the geolocator failed in February 2010, data has shown that in the 4th week of July 2009 it was in Northern France, then in mid-August 2009 in Southern France. Moving on to Morocco, it spent three weeks in the north from late August to then reach Senegal in mid-December. What a journey this small bird undertakes every year, all looking for the best places where to feed.

The Sound

The Common Nightingale sings by day and night where male nightingales that sing throughout the night are thought to be single birds, trying to serenade migrating females down as they fly over. 

Nightingales have an astonishingly rich repertoire, able to produce over 1000 different sounds, compared with just 340 by Skylarks and about 100 by Blackbirds. This is because the part of the brain responsible for creating sound is bigger in the Common Nightingale than in most other birds.

There are a few series of notes which are more common than others, generally composed of loud, rich warbling whistles, with a distinctive crescendo lu-lu-lü-lü-lee-lee which is a typical part of this song including also clear and fluty phrases, bubbling, chirring, chattering. The best way to recognise it is to listen to it and grasp the deepness of its sound, loudness and variety of calls it makes.

- Use the Player to listen to the Nightingale song. -


The Common Nightingale frequents open woodland with thickets and dense patches of vegetation along water bodies, edges of deciduous woodland, pine forest, and borders of dry areas such as garrigue and maquis. It can also be found in cultivated areas with hedgerows and bushes, in suburban gardens and in parks with leaf litter, examples of urban locations are close to the villages in Aiguamolls de l'Empordà, and famously in many parks around Berlin.

- Use the Player to listen 15 minutes of ambient soundscape. -

Our Encounter

We’ve heard Common Nightingales in the UK when working with The Nest Collective, led by the musician and friend Sam Lee for their “Singing With The Nightingale” field events held in the South of the UK. A magical experience where Sam takes you on a journey through the folklore of the Nightingales, a bird he’s been always inspired and of which he wrote a book, ending with him and other musicians playing music live with the Nightingales in the middle of the night, together with a small audience.

We weren’t sure when we would meet the Nightingales on our journey, but we knew it was going to happen at some point soon. It was June 2022, we were driving from Urdaibai in the Basque Country (Spain) to the next location, Aiguamolls de l'Empordà in Catalonia, Spain, driving south of the Pyrenees mountains. We usually take a week to drive from one location to the other, to relax a bit, get our stuff together and ready for the next location; this time is also about pondering past experiences and what is going to be next. We stopped for a day in an arid area in a valley near San Esteban de Litera, which seemed quiet where we could take a day or two to camp and take the hammocks out. We do like to run whenever we can to keep in shape, often also to scout areas for possible wildlife activity, and this time has been a real surprise.

Running through hills at the bottom of a possibly ancient river, the stillness and silence created a natural echo chamber where any quiet step would sound like a T-rex-style stomp from Jurassic Park, and there they were. We were used to listening to Nightingales at night but we didn’t know they would also sing during the day, what a joyful surprise. Together with other birdsongs, they were resonating through the small valley, one, two, three, ten of them, and we could have kept counting. We decided to stay for a few days just to record the morning Dawn Chorus, and this is what you can hear below.

We’ve got used to them, at the end feeling we knew their song already, but Aiguamolls de l’Empordà was ready to surprise us again, we could hear Nightingales singing at every bush in the field, near farmlands, near the villages, at the camping sites. Hundreds of them, more common than House Sparrows at some stage, would sing the whole day, with their many variations and mimicking local birds such as the Eurasian Scops Owl. 
How to capture the incredible number of them? They’re dispersed all over the area, which includes the village of Castello d’Empuries, Empuriabrava, and other smaller villages. We have decided to challenge ourselves and try to record as many different individuals as possible. Over three days, Axel started recording for one minute every individual Nightingale singing he would find on his path for a few hours each day, ending up with an average of 40 different nightingales recorded per hour, an impressive number for us. 

How are we going to create something which could make you realise the sheer amount of Nightingales in the area? We are working on it, we believe meeting them again in Africa will help us discover a way to share them with the world, and how they manage to bring us together with their beautiful song.

10% of the profit from the Common Nightingale postcard and print goes to Aiguamolls de l'Empordà Natural Park, Catalonia, Spain, where these pictures, videos and sounds have been taken from.


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