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bird Bitterns

Identify It >  Birds >   Bitterns >

Scientific name:  Botaurus stellaris

Size:  The bittern is approx 80cm long with a wingspan up to 130cm

Distribution:  Rare, but slowly increasing in numbers.  The stronghold of the bittern remains in East Anglia and Lancashire

Months seen:  All year round.  More birds arrive in winter months

Life Span: 10 years (source BTO)

Habitat:  Reed beds

Food:  Fish, amphibians, small mammals and insects

Special features:  Bitterns are members of the heron family, which is noticeable when they are in flight (see photo).  Bitterns have golden brown plumage which is mottled and barred with black markings.  This colouring makes them extremely difficult to spot in their favoured wet reed bed habitat, especially as they can stand motionless for long periods at a time.

Bitterns were once common across the UK, but numbers began to fall when they became a popular delicacy with the Tudors.  Numbers decreased still further when they became a popular bird to have stuffed and mounted.  In the 1800's the drainage of many wetlands reduced their numbers even further until by 1886 they had disappeared from Britain.  In the early 20th century the population began to slowly return and by the 1950s there were 60 bitterns in the UK, but water pollution destroyed their habitat.  By the late 1990's there were just 11 birds left.  Improvements in wetland habitats by conservationists has slowly brought the population up to around 100 birds (correct at 2014).


2005 - Fen Hide, Titchwell, Norfolk - Tony Margiocchi
2009 - Slimbridge, Gloucestershire - Dean Eades
2014 - Far Ings ,Barton, Lincs - Pete Tanton

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