In Britain, nightingales favour scrub, often near water, and open or coppiced woodland. They occur south of a line from the Severn to the Humber, and are scarce birds nowadays – so you’re unlikely to encounter them away from favoured haunts.
Here are the ten places you are most likely to hear the birds. Many are nature reserves and offer guided nightingale walks between late April and early June.
1 Fingringhoe Wick, Essex (Essex Wildlife Trust)
2 Blean Woods, Kent (RSPB)
3 Cliffe Pools, Kent (RSPB)
4 Lackford Lakes, Suffolk (Suffolk Wildlife Trust)
5 Alton Water, Suffolk (Anglian Water)
6 Paxton Pits, Cambs (Huntingdonshire District Council/Friends of Paxton Pits Nature Reserve)
7 Whisby Nature Park, Lincs (Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust)
8 Knepp Castle Estate, Sussex (Knepp Wildland Project)
9 Woods Mill, Sussex (Sussex Wildlife Trust)
10 Swillbrook Lakes, Cotswold Water Park, Wilts/Gloucs
Is it a nightingale?
One of the commonest mistakes is to assume that any bird singing sweetly after dark is a nightingale; it’s much more likely to be a robin.
Nocturnal singing by robins appears to be on the increase, perhaps triggered by street and security lighting.
Blackbirds and song thrushes also sometimes sing at night. But while both are impressively melodious, neither is a match for the sustained strength and pizzazz of a nightingale, which BBC naturalist Brett Westwood has compared to a “jazz musician, improvising on a theme”.
The nightingale’s song is perhaps most easily confused with that of the blackcap.
This common warbler sings by day, often in the same scrubby or open wooded habitats as the nightingale, and it also has a rich, bright, loud voice with real vigour.
However, its song is much less varied in pace and pitch, and lacks the nightingale’s ‘jug, jug, jug’ notes.
● Watch a BTO video on how to identify birds singing at night, featuring the robin, blackbird, song thrush and nightingale