Nightingales at Croome
A secretive bird which likes nothing better than hiding in the middle of an impenetrable bush or thicket. They arrive in April and sing until late May and early June. They leave again from July to September.
What is it?
Slightly larger than a robin, the nightingale is a small passerine (perching) bird best known for its powerful and beautiful song. It is plain brown above except for the reddish tail and is buff to white below, a quite unremarkable bird to look at. The song of the nightingale however has been described as one of the most beautiful sounds in nature, inspiring songs, fairy tales, opera, books, and a great deal of poetry.
Nightingales are most vocal when establishing their territories during May and the males can be heard singing through day and night. The name ‘nightingale’ came about because of its habit of singing long after dark unusual (but not exclusive) for British birds. Typically they live for around two years, the oldest recorded is 8 years old.
In the UK nightingales breed mostly south of the Severn-Wash line and east from Dorset to Kent. The highest densities are found in the south east: Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, Kent and Sussex.
Croome is lucky to currently have a habitat preferred by the nightingale; it is a secretive bird which prefers living in the middle of an impenetrable bush. It requires open scrubby ground on which to feed and plenty of cover. The conditions in the shelter belt at Croome are perfect for the nightingale, a central open area with sparse ground cover, with high canopy tree cover and dense scrubby bush either side. They are more often heard than seen.
Nightingales are declining
Over the last 40 years there has been a 90 per cent decline in numbers of nightingales in the UK, and the emerging picture indicates their range is continuing to contract towards the extreme south east of England.
There are many factors involved both here in the UK and in their wintering grounds in Africa but two of the most prevalent in the UK are destruction of the habit by development and the rise in the deer population, including the Muntjac that we have at Croome, who have a destructive effect on the low growing vegetation of their preferred environment.
Preserving the habitat
The team at Croome have consulted with specialist ecologists and ornithologists to ensure that the nightingale habitat at Croome can be preserved and a programme of work was undertaken over the winter to further develop the habitat we have.
The ranger team worked hard over the past few winters to create further scrubby habitat that nightingales love by coppicing blackthorn to create a dense clump of scrub, encouraging the spread of brambles in key areas, digging out shallow ponds and felling two small clearings in a block of woodland to allow further scrub to develop. These have been deer fenced to stop the deer from browsing off the tender new growth, allowing good nightingale habitat to develop.
Nightingales love dense scrub with bare ground underneath it as it offers safe places to nest and feed, ideally near water.
We’re hoping that as usual the first nightingales will be back in early April.
Watch this video of a nightgale recorded singing at Croome by Brian Trott
Research for this article was obtained in the main from the British Trust for Ornithology