Abstract image representing bird songs

Introducing the stars of Let Nature Sing

Adrian Thomas introduces another star soloist on our Let Nature Sing single, the “voice” that would make any judge turn their chair around - the nightingale.

Star quality

In our single, there is one powerful, melodic voice that we hear briefly at the start but then extensively at the end. Rich, powerful, effortless - it is endlessly creative in its short, explosive verses. Sometimes, a singer has star quality written all over them, so there was no way we could exclude this bird from the microphone. It is, of course, the nightingale.

Falling under the nightingale spell

Poets, musicians and writers have fallen for its charms over the centuries. This is the bird that can move an audience to tears, as I know only too well from having taken groups of people to hear them perform.

Don't judge a bird by its feathers

In appearance, it is actually one of the drabbest birds you can find. It is rather like a thrush in shape, but slimmer and a little smaller. Were it not for the russet-y tail, this would be the brownest of brown birds, with no flecks or speckles to enliven the plumage.

Not that you are likely to see one, for it is something of a shrinking violet, hiding in bushes and feeding unobtrusively on the ground. There’s no glitz or stardust about this bird, until it opens its mouth. That's when the torrent of creativity pours out.

A song with lustre

Some people perhaps expect it to sing long melodic verses, but that is not its style. Each short burst usually lasts just two or three seconds, and is a rapid-fire volley starting with a twiddly introduction, straight into some throbbing notes, and finishing with an acrobatic note or two. What marks it out is the assurance, the control, the power. There is nothing half-hearted about this.

However, after every dozen or so verses, a male will throw in a much longer verse that starts with a soft “pew pew pew” that slowly builds in volume and pace before an explosive ending. Bravo!

Of course, what also marks the nightingale out is that it will continue to sing into the night when almost all other birds shut up. They do actually sing through the day, but it is unmated males that indulge in a little night music, trying to lure a female. In the still night air, his songs take on a lustre like no other.

Hear the nightingale's song

The fate of the nightingale

The sad news is the ongoing, protracted decline of the nightingale, whose population has declined in the UK by 90% in the last 50 years.

A shrinking world

There are thought to be less than 5,500 males left, and their range has shrunk back to the far south and east of England. The problems it faces range from the deterioration of their woodland homes, where they need a thick understorey of vegetation, to development pressures, for they don't cope well with human habitation nearby.

Keeping the song alive

Many of you will have taken part in our partnership campaign to try and save Lodge Hill, the UK's number one site for nightingales, where the Ministry of Defence planned to build 5,000 houses on what is meant to be a nationally-protected site.

Following repeat rounds of consultation, in which thousands of you helped make the case that the nightingales' home should not be destroyed, its new owners, Homes England, announced in late 2018 that they were reducing the plans to 500 houses. That is great news; we still have a little way to go to ensure the Lodge Hill nightingales are safe, but it shows what can be achieved.

Where to hear a nightingale

Given that this is a bird in such peril, if you get chance to hear a nightingale for real, take it, and prepare to be wowed.

Try RSPB Pulborough Brooks (West Sussex), which hosts a nightingale festival; RSPB Highnam Woods (Gloucestershire); RSPB Northward Hill, RSPB Cliffe Pools and RSPB Blean Woods (Kent); and Fingringhoe Wick (Essex Wildlife Trust).

Want to learn more about birdsong?
Adrian’s new book and recordings, The RSPB Guide to Birdsong, was released this April. Proceeds from those sold through the RSPB shop go to nature conservation.

Chart success!

Let Nature Sing was your opportunity to put the birds you care about on the main stage. Thanks to you, we reached #18 in the charts! Thank you for helping us make history. Don’t forget you can still buy/stream the song and show your support for nature.

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