Saturday 15 June
Bittern (Botaurus stellaris)
Bittern fact file
- Find out more
- Print factsheet
The bittern (Botaurus stellaris) is more likely to be heard than seen. The loud booming call, uttered by males during the breeding season, can be heard from up to two kilometres under suitable conditions. It is a secretive bird, its plumage subtly mottled in various shades of brown, which help it to blend with the reed stalks amongst which it lives. When startled it adopts a camouflage posture, bill pointing upwards and neck stretched vertically. In flight it resembles its close relative the heron but, in good visibility, is easily recognised by its colouration.
- Butor étoilé.
- Body length: 700 - 800 mm
Bitterns feed on fish, especially eels, amphibians and invertebrates. They usually hunt along the reed margins in shallow water and on the edges of dykes.
Males are polygamous with each mating with up to five females. The nest is built in the previous year's standing reeds and consists of a platform some 30 centimetres across. The eggs are laid in late March and April, usually four or five in number, and incubation and care of the chicks is provided by the female bird. After hatching, the chicks spend about two weeks in the nest and then disperse amongst the reeds. They adopt the camouflage posture of the adult when threatened but little else is known about the chicks' feeding habits and behaviour. The birds usually leave their nesting grounds in winter but the UK population is often joined by over wintering birds from the continent. Due to its secretive nature, bittern numbers are usually monitored by counting the booming calls of males heard at the main sites.Top
Bitterns breed throughout Europe, North Africa and central Asia but in Britain they are confined to very few sites, most in East Anglia and Lancashire.Top
Across most of their range, bitterns are a bird of shallow reed beds although in central Europe they breed in swamps dominated by reed mace or common bulrush. Bitterns need large, extensive areas of managed reed bed with shallow pools or dyke edges in which to hunt fish. Lack of suitable management allows scrub to develop and leads to reed beds drying out, one of the reasons that is thought to have led to the decline in bittern numbers in the UK.Top
The bittern is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1). Included in the Birds of Conservation Concern Red List - (UK). Fully protected under Schedule I of the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981. Listed under Annex I of the Birds Directive, Appendix II of the Bern Convention and Appendix II of the Bonn Convention.Top
Much of the bittern's former habitat of large reed beds has deteriorated due to lack of management, loss to agriculture, pollution and in recent years, inundation of coastal sites caused by sea-level rise. By 1995 a survey of UK reed beds revealed only 45 sites with an area greater than 20 hectres. These remaining sites were also very localised and this fragmentation also reduces the bird's opportunities to breed in significant numbers. In East Anglia some of the bittern's most valuable breeding areas have begun to be seriously threatened by the sea. Two of the largest reed beds in Britain have suffered salt-water contamination, which kills off not only reed but also the food sources on which the birds depend.Top
Reed beds are one of Britain's most important habitats for birds, supporting four other rare breeding birds. These are the marsh harrier, Cetti's warbler, Savi's warbler and the bearded tit. They also provide valuable roosting sites for many thousands of migrating birds as well as being rich in plant and invertebrate life. As part of the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UKBAP) English Nature has produced an action plan for reed bed birds in England as well as individual Species Action Plans (SAPs) for these five birds. The bittern is included in English Nature's Species Recovery Programme, which aims to restore existing reed beds back to favourable condition and to create new reed bed habitats both close to and away from traditional bittern breeding grounds. Where coastal reed beds have been identified as under threat from rising sea levels, new areas have been targeted for expansion and bunds built to impede inundation by seawater. In partnership with the RSPB, English Nature's Bittern Recovery Project has examined ways of turning agricultural land, also threatened by sea-level rise, into reed bed habitat through grants such as Countryside Stewardship.Top
Find out more
For more information on the bittern and other bird species:Top
Information supplied by English Nature.
- The act of incubating eggs, that is, keeping them warm so that development is possible.
- Animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones), echinoderms, and others.
- Mating with more than one partner in the same season.
IUCN Red List (March, 2011)
MyARKive offers the scrapbook feature to signed-up members, allowing you to organize your favourite ARKive images and videos and share them with friends.
Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials
Copyright in this website and materials contained on this website (Material) belongs to Wildscreen or its licensors.
Visitors to this website (End Users) are entitled to:
- view the contents of, and Material on, the website;
- download and retain copies of the Material on their personal systems in digital form in low resolution for their own personal use;
- teachers, lecturers and students may incorporate the Material in their educational material (including, but not limited to, their lesson plans, presentations, worksheets and projects) in hard copy and digital format for use within a registered educational establishment, provided that the integrity of the Material is maintained and that copyright ownership and authorship is appropriately acknowledged by the End User.
End Users shall not copy or otherwise extract, alter or manipulate Material other than as permitted in these Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials.
Additional use of flagged material
Green flagged material
Certain Material on this website (Licence 4 Material) displays a green flag next to the Material and is available for not-for-profit conservation or educational use. This material may be used by End Users, who are individuals or organisations that are in our opinion not-for-profit, for their not-for-profit conservation or not-for-profit educational purposes. Low resolution, watermarked images may be copied from this website by such End Users for such purposes. If you require high resolution or non-watermarked versions of the Material, please contact Wildscreen with details of your proposed use.
Creative commons material
Certain Material on this website has been licensed to Wildscreen under a Creative Commons Licence. These images are clearly marked with the Creative Commons buttons and may be used by End Users only in the way allowed by the specific Creative Commons Licence under which they have been submitted. Please see http://creativecommons.org for details.
Any other use
Please contact the copyright owners directly (copyright and contact details are shown for each media item) to negotiate terms and conditions for any use of Material other than those expressly permitted above. Please note that many of the contributors to ARKive are commercial operators and may request a fee for such use.
Save as permitted above, no person or organisation is permitted to incorporate any copyright material from this website into any other work or publication in any format (this includes but is not limited to: websites, Apps, CDs, DVDs, intranets, extranets, signage, digital communications or on printed materials for external or other distribution). Use of the Material for promotional, administrative or for-profit purposes is not permitted.