nightingale defined in 1930 yearnightingale - Nightingale;
nightingale - Upper plumage uniform brown tinged with chestnut; tail rufous; under parts greyish white; flanks pale ash. Length, six inches and a quarter.
The nightingale is the only songster that has been too much lauded, with the inevitable result that its melody, when first heard, causes disappointment, and even incredulity. More than once it has been my lot to call the attention of someone who had not previously heard it to its song, at the same time pointing out the bird; and after a few moments of listening, he or she has exclaimed, ' That the nightingale! Why, it is only a common-looking little bird, and its song, that so much fuss is made about, is after all no better than that of any other little bird.' And then it is perhaps added: ' I don't think the nightingale - if the bird you have shown me is the nightingale - sings so well as the thrush, or the blackbird, or the lark.' The song is, nevertheless, exceedingly beautiful; its phrasing is more perfect than that of any other British melodist; and the voice has a combined strength, purity, and brilliance probably without a parallel. On account of these qualities, and of the fact that the song is frequently heard in the night-time, when other voices are silent, the nightingale was anciently selected as the highest example of a perfect singer; and, on the principle that to him that hath shall be given, it was credited with all the best qualities of all the other singers. It was the maker of ravishing music, and a type, just as the pelican was a type of parental affection and self-sacrifice, and the turtle-dove of conjugal fidelity. Only, when he actually hears it for the first time, the hearer makes the sad discovery that the bird he has for long years been listening to in fancy - the nightingale heard by the poet with an aching heart, and the wish that he, too, could fade with it into the forest dim - was a nightingale of the brain, a mythical bird, like the footless bird of paradise and the swan with a dying melody. Beautiful, nay, perfect, the song may be, but he misses from it that something of human feeling which makes the imperfect songs so enchanting - the overflowing gladness of the lark; the spirit of wildness of the blackcap; the airy, delicate tenderness of the willow-wren; and the serene happiness of the blackbird.
The nightingale arrives in this country about the middle of April, returning to the same localities year after year, apparently in the same numbers. It is scarcely to be doubted that the young birds that survive the perils of migration come back to the spot where they were hatched, since the species does not extend its range nor establish new colonies. It is most common in the southern counties of England, above all in Surrey, but rare in the western and northern counties, and in Scotland and Ireland it is unknown.
The nightingale so nearly resembles the robin in size, form, and manner that he might be taken for that bird but for his clear, brown colour. Like the robin, he feeds on the ground, seeking grubs and insects under the dead leaves, hopping rapidly by fits and starts, standing erect and motionless at intervals as if to listen, and occasionally throwing up his tail and lowering his head and wings, just as the robin does. He inhabits woods, coppices, rough bramble- grown commons, and unkept hedges, and loves best of all a thicket growing by the side of running water.
Two or three days after arriving he begins to sing, and continues in song until the middle, or a little past the middle, of June, when the young are hatched. In fine weather he sings at intervals throughout the day, but his music is more continuous and has a more beautiful effect in the evening. For an hour or two after sunset it is perhaps most perfect. In the dark he is silent, but if the moon shines he will continue singing for hours. That is to say, some birds will continue singing; as a rule, not half so many as may be heard during daylight.
The nest is nearly always placed on the ground beneath a hedge or close thicket; it is rather large, and composed of dry grass and dead leaves loosely put together, the inside lined with fine dead grass, rootlets, and vegetable down. The eggs are four or five in number, and of a uniform olive-brown colour.
During incubation and after the young are hatched the parent birds display the most intense solicitude when the nest is approached, and flit from bough to bough close to the intruder's head, incessantly repeating two strangely different notes - one low, clear, and sorrowful, the other a harsh, grinding sound.
The return migration is in August and September.
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