Nightingales

The nightingales sing us awake every morning.

It’s 5:22 A.M.  Time to wake up! sings a bird loudly from its perch in the chestnut tree outside my window.  I sleep with the windows cracked open all night, so the early morning lights and sounds tend to wake me early.  As spring arrived, I noticed the arrival of a new bird, one with an incredibly complex, non-repeating song, one I’d never heard before.  It was mesmerizing to listen to it chatter away in complete paragraphs, then pause and listen for a response from a distant colleague on a tree down the street.  I’m used to the early-morning birdsong back in New Hampshire – where it seems hundreds of birds start their mornings at 4:30am every June – but never before have I heard a song quite this entrancing.  Read on, and listen.

We later learned that these are nightingales, renowned throughout history in story and poem for their beautiful song.  Indeed, research shows they have an unusually complex brain, giving them an immense “repertoire of 1,160 syllables.”

Here are three recordings from 5:30am yesterday:

They may sing beautifully, but they’re not much to look at.  Assuming you can see one!  We live so close to this chestnut tree that our balcony is practically a treehouse, yet I have not been able to find the nightingale amidst the branches while it sings.  This morning, walking through a different neighborhood, I heard a nightingale sing from a thin, scraggly tree with few leaves, and managed (after many minutes of search) to spot it on a high branch.  The photos are not great – at the limit of my telephoto lens, and with a lot of chromatic aberration – but at least I can share some visuals to go with the audio.  I’ll keep looking for my local nightingale friend – it sings all day.

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Author: dfkotz

David Kotz is an outdoor enthusiast, traveller, husband, and father of three. He is also a Professor of Computer Science at Dartmouth College.

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