Nightingales are known the world over for their beautiful songs. Part of why people love their songs is because they often sing at night, when all the rest of the birds are quiet. In fact, their name means “night singer”. They have inspired poets, writers, musicians and artists for more than a thousand years: from Beethoven, to Shakespeare to Tolkien.


In the northern parts of Southern Africa you may bump into a drab little LBJ known as the Thrush Nightingale. But what this bird lacks in looks, it makes up for in how it sounds! In the olden days, people thought it was the female that sang. But it is actually the male. In fact, males that do not yet have a mate will sing loudly throughout the night.

Unlike on their breeding grounds in Eurasia, nightingale are late-sleepers in Africa. They get going only when the day heats up, and usually start singing intensely from about 08:00 onwards. They don’t breed in Africa, so they don’t sing so loudly here. In fact, their songs become most powerful just before they migrate back north to their breeding grounds. So the best time to hear them is in February and March.

The song is a continuous and the bird doesn’t even seem to take a break for minutes at a time. The song is made up of whistles, gurgling sounds, clicks and rattles. The variation is limitless, and each one sounds a little different. But it is not easy to see a nightingale – you have to be stealthy and patient, and peer deep into the thickets where they live. Something interesting is that nightingales that live in cities sing louder – because they have to. The background noise from traffic and people drowns out their sound. And females like males with the loudest voices.

Listen here:



ABOVE: This is what a few seconds of the song “looks” like. Kind of like music notes hey?