When writing my recent piece on Nightingales in Tolkien’s writings, I compiled a list of places in Arda which were, or could have been, associated with the species. This was originally intended as another appendix to the essay, however, as the tone was so different, I decided against including it with the main essay. Despite this, I am including this now as a more light-hearted piece, which I trust will be taken in that spirit, and possibly a point of discussion.
DISTRIBUTION OF NIGHTINGALES IN ARDA
Lórien (Valinor) – The initial conception of the domain of Lórien in Valinor in The Book of Lost Tales already has an association with singing nightingales, and this continued throughout Tolkien’s writing about this location. However, in the early texts the silence of the nightingales is used as an indicator of the distress of Lórien, which is not present in later versions.
Doriath – Nightingales follow Melian to Doriath, and remain there as long as she is present. Melian arrives in Doriath with her Nightingales before the sun dawns for the first time. [This works in the context of a secondary world, but is scientifically impossible in the real world, unless Melian had a reliable light and heat source. In the UK Nightingales are thought to exist south of a line in which the average June night temperature is 19 degrees C!]
Tol-in-Gaurhoth – Beren hears nightingales when Lúthien comes to rescue him from Sauron’s dungeon after the death of Finrod Felagund. This seems to be the only reference to the birds singing in a site associated with evil, although the wording implies that the nightingales are in Beren’s imagination.
Taur-im- Duinath – Likely, but not mentioned by Tolkien.
Nimbrethil – Possible, but not mentioned by Tolkien
Númenor – in one scene published posthumously in The Lost Road a Nightingale sings in Elendil’s garden, but this seems to be the only reference to the species on Númenor.
The Shire – If we equate the climate of Hobbiton with that of Oxfordshire in the mid-twentieth century then nightingales would be sparsely distributed in the Shire because they would be close to the extreme north-west of their range. They may well still be found in the Old Forest and the Woody End, but they would be unlikely to be found much further north than Annúminas. The singing of nightingales at Bag End at the beginning of Brian Sibley’s 1981 BBC radio dramatization of The Lord of the Rings seems highly unlikely, especially when the date of the party preparations is taken into account. By all accounts the garden at Bag End was extremely well-tended before Frodo left on his quest, so it is unlikely that there would be any suitable habitat for Nightingales! If Frodo’s journey had started on 25th March then no doubt there would have been several references to nightingales on his travels, but the fellowship’s quest takes place when nightingales should be over-wintering in Far Harad and possibly even further south!
Mirkwood – Tolkien fails to mention nightingales in Mirkwood, but it is such a vast expanse of woodland, some of the habitat must have been suitable. It is even possible that they may have found the darkness congenial.
Lothlórien – looking at Tolkien’s illustration of Lothlórien, the forest floor doesn’t appear to be an ideal habitat for nightingales, but this only depicts a narrow range of the whole woodland, so it is possible that if thickets exist, then those and the proximity of the elves would seem to be conducive to the presence of this species.
Fangorn – Fangorn has dense undergrowth, so would probably be suitable for nightingales to breed. However, it would probably have been more abundant in the time of the Entwives, especially if the gardening techniques they employed included coppicing. It has been demonstrated that coppicing on a strict rotational basis has a beneficial effect on breeding success. Once the coppicing ceases the habitat quickly becomes degraded and the nightingale breeding density falls.
Ithilien – just as the nightingale becomes more numerous nearer the Mediterranean, the climate of Ithilien is likely to be more favourable to this species than that of the cooler, wetter Shire. The nightingale is likely to be present in Ithilien away from the pine woodland, but they could be present in the furze thickets.
I am a self-employed wildlife guide. I take people to beautiful places to learn about their local nature. I’ve been reading Tolkien from the age of 9, and have recently become interested in Tolkien’s time in East Yorkshire during WW1. I completed a Masters degree from the University of Sheffield in the Victorian Ghost Stories of Ellen [Mrs Henry] Wood.