In view of the complexity of the wing-beat kinematics and geometry, an important class of theoretical models for analysis and prediction of bird flight performance entirely, or almost entirely, ignores the action of the wing itself and considers only the resulting motions in the air behind the bird. These motions can also be complicated, but some success has previously been recorded in detecting and measuring relatively simple wake structures that can sometimes account for required quantities used to estimate aerodynamic power consumption. To date, all bird wakes, measured or presumed, seem to fall into one of two classes: the closed-loop, discrete vortex model at low flight speeds, and the constant-circulation, continuous vortex model at moderate to high speeds. Here, novel and accurate quantitative measurements of velocity fields in vertical planes aligned with the freestream are used to investigate the wake structure of a thrush nightingale over its entire range of natural flight speeds. At most flight speeds, the wake cannot be categorised as one of the two standard types, but has an intermediate structure, with approximations to the closed-loop and constant-circulation models at the extremes. A careful accounting for all vortical structures revealed with the high-resolution technique permits resolution of the previously unexplained wake momentum paradox. All the measured wake structures have sufficient momentum to provide weight support over the wingbeat. A simple model is formulated and explained that mimics the correct, measured balance of forces in the downstroke- and upstroke-generated wake over the entire range of flight speeds. Pending further work on different bird species, this might form the basis for a generalisable flight model.