Nightingale are one of those species that most people have heard of, but few have seen. These renowned songsters are closely related to the robin, but are a little larger and the very definition of a ‘little brown bird’ having plain brown upperparts, paler underparts and a more reddish-brown tail. Despite their plain looks, nightingale are deserving of their reputation as wonderful singers with studies identifying up to 600 different sounds in their repertoire.

Sadly, nightingale are not doing well in the UK. They are summer visitors, arriving to southern and eastern counties in the spring from their wintering grounds in West Africa to spend the breeding season here. Data from the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) suggests that the UK breeding population has declined by 90% since the 1960s and they have recently been placed on the Birds of Conservation Concern Red List, meaning they are at the highest level of conservation concern and at risk of disappearing as a UK species.

We are lucky to be in a part of the UK where nightingales are clinging on. In the 2018 breeding season, we located two territorial singing males on the reserve. Unfortunately, we didn’t find any in 2019, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that there were none.

Now that we are in the winter habitat management season, we are carrying out important work at the reserve with our volunteer work party group, as guided by our reserve management plan, to create new areas specifically designed for breeding nightingale following guidance published by the BTO.

Nightingale territories contain dense, almost impenetrable thickets of vegetation for birds to sing and nest whilst remaining concealed. Ideal habitat can be thought of as being made up of a series of concentric circles. The innermost layer contains trees with a dense canopy to shade out the ground, keeping it bare for nightingale to forage for invertebrates. These central trees are encircled by rings of woody plants, such as hawthorn or blackthorn, which are coppiced in staggered layers from high to near ground level to form a thick curtain around the central area. The cut material is placed around the outside to form a scaffold for bramble to grow, providing a dense and protected area for nightingale to sing and nest.

It will take a while for us to see the fruits of our labour, but we are hopeful that nightingale will continue to sing at Fen Drayton Lakes for many years to come.

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