Little Bittern – Profile | Traits | Diet | Habitat | Breeding | Call

Little bittern

The little bittern or common little bittern, scientific name Ixobrychus minutus is a wading bird within the heron family, Ardeidae. Ixobrychus is from Ancient Greek ixias, a reed-like plant, and brukhomai, to bellow, and minutus is Latin for “small”.

Little bittern Profile

Bitterns are secretive birds, which inhabit dense vegetation in freshwater swamps. They are not often seen and their presence is commonly solely detected from their call. As its name suggests, the little bittern is a tiny species, standing solely 20 cm tall.

There has been a single New Zealand record, of a juvenile at Westport in 1987. Vagrants might happen more ceaselessly than the only sighting suggests, however would almost definitely be missed.

Little bitterns are secretive and inconspicuous though not essentially shy of people. They are migratory throughout most of their breeding range.

They disperse extensively after breeding finishes, flying singly and in small teams at night. For instance, birds from Europe cross the Mediterranean into Africa.

Widely distributed all through western Europe, Ukraine, components of Russia and so far as India, central and southern Africa, and Madagascar and south and eastern Australia and southern New Guinea.

Little bitterns inhabit all kinds of wetland vegetation varieties and water our bodies, together with bogs, ponds, reed-fringed margins of lakes, and dense swamps.

little bittern, common little bittern, scientific name Ixobrychus minutus

Little bittern Distribution

The little bittern is native to the Old World, breeding in Africa, central and southern Europe, western and southern Asia, and Madagascar.

Birds from temperate areas in Europe and western Asia are migratory, wintering in Africa and additional south in Asia, whereas these nesting within the tropics are sedentary. It is uncommon north of its breeding range.

In Britain, there have been intermittent experiences of breeding within the nineteenth century, and once more in 1946 and 1957, however, none of those records have been confirmed.

The first confirmed British breeding record is from Yorkshire in 1984, and the second from the Avalon Marshes in Somerset in 2010, by 2017 this species had been present in this area for 9 consecutive years.

little bittern, common little bittern, scientific name Ixobrychus minutus

Little bittern Identification

Little bitterns are small herons standing about 20 cm tall. Adult males are distinctive with a black cap, back, and tail, and yellowish-buff brown plumage on the neck, under components, and patches on the wings.

The bill is yellowish-brown and the leg color is variable from greenish to yellow. In distinction, the feminine is smaller and darker; its neck, back, and wings are rufous-brown, its wing patches a paler rufous, and its black crest much less developed than the male.

The under components are striped in brown. In each sex, the neck has whitish longitudinal streaks and the lower breast is plumed and may be flared throughout menace shows. The complete juvenile plumage is strongly streaked chestnut-brown with mottled brown and buff wing patches.

Little bittern Voice

A harsh ‘koh’ when flushed, a deep, repeated barking ‘koh’ within the breeding season, and ‘kwer’ throughout the flight.

Similar species: the extinct New Zealand little bittern (I. novaezelandiae) was bigger, wealthy chestnut on the back, and more striped ventrally. The very comparable yellow bittern (I. sinensis) from southeast Asia has no black on the back, and an extended, slimmer bill.

Little bittern Description

The little bittern has a size of 33–38 centimeters (13–15 in) and a wingspan of 52–58 centimeters (20–23 in). It is the smallest of the breeding herons of Europe and is characterized by its tiny size, long and sharp bill, and thick neck.

little bittern, common little bittern, scientific name Ixobrychus minutus

The males are distinctively patterned and each sex presents pale forewing panels. The males have black with a faint green sheen on the crown, nape, back, tail, and scapulars.

The underparts are pale buff and the wing has a pinkish buff oval formed panel which contrasts with the in any other case black wings and is fashioned by the inside wing coverts.

The underwing is totally whiteish in color. The feminine is duller than the male and has brownish-black upper parts with paler feather margins seen at shut range.

The underparts of the feminine aren’t as clear as these of the male and are streaked with darkish buff and brown. The female’s wing panel is much less apparent than the male’s.

The juveniles are duller and more rufous than the females and are more closely streaked on each of their upperparts and underparts, together with their wing coverts.

little bittern, common little bittern, scientific name Ixobrychus minutus

Little bittern Behavior

The little bittern is crepuscular, skulking, and usually solitary. It feeds on fishes, amphibians, and bugs that are caught inside reedbeds or at their edges by the bird slowly stalking the prey.

The male claims a territory within the Spring, promoting his presence with a deep barking or croaking call and the monogamous pair stay collectively for no less than one breeding season.

Eggs are laid in a nest located in dense reedbeds, rushes, or bushes above the water from the center of May and there’s a single brood which is often 5-6 eggs. These are incubated for 17–19 days and the chicks are fledged after 25–30 days.

In Europe the little bittern is a migratory species, crossing the Mediterranean from Africa within the early Spring and arriving of their breeding wetlands from mid-April onwards.

The return to Africa happens in August and September and there are usually only some juveniles left in Europe by October. The European breeders migrate as far south because of the Eastern Cape and Transvaal.


The Westport bird fed readily on tadpoles, bullies, and freshwater invertebrates.


The little bittern is, without doubt, one of the species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds applies.

little bittern, common little bittern, scientific name Ixobrychus minutus

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