More than any other bird the nightingale is known for its song, which is full of rich and varied notes. It sings in the day as well as the night, but it is the night song heard when other birds are silent that has always attracted attention.
The nightingale, which is just over six inches long, has brown upper parts, chestnut-brown wings and tail and pale, greyish-brown under parts. It spends the winter in Africa and flies to Great Britain and western Europe in the spring. Although they come to England and Wales, nightingales are generally not found north of a line stretching from the Wash to the River Severn. They are very rare visitors to Scotland.
Soon after they have arrived in England - usually the second week in April - cock nightingales start singing in order to attract mates. The hen bird does not sing. They haunt copses with plenty of undergrowth, particularly in moist places, and generally keep under cover. The birds begin to leave Britain early in July.
The nest of the nightingale is made of dead leaves and lined with dead grasses. It is usually found near the ground among the nettles, brambles or other undergrowth. Four or five olive-green eggs are laid. The young birds are spotted rather like young robins.
One version of the Greek legend about the nightingale says that it was once a beautiful maiden called Philomela, whose sister Procne was married to Tereus, king of Thrace. Tereus fell in love with Philomela and, after imprisoning Procne and cutting out her tongue, told Philomela that she was dead. Philomela married Tereus, but Procne sent her a web on which she had woven her story, and the two sisters fled from the palace. Tereus pursued them, but the gods turned Philomela into a nightingale and Procne into a swallow.
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