Eurasian Bittern

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Image:Eurasianbittern.jpg

Common Name: Eurasian or Great Bittern
Scientific Name: Botaurus stellaris

Size: 27-31 inches (69-81cm)

Habitat: Europe, Asia and Africa; Populations breeding on the Atlantic coast of Europe, in the Mediterranean and in South Africa are largely sedentary due to the relatively mild winters (although they may make local dispersive movements related to rainfall). Continental populations are mainly migratory however with a marked post-breeding dispersal of immatures. The species breeds from March to June in Eurasia and during the rains from September to January in South Africa. The species avoids saline waters but is equally abundant in fresh or brackish habitats (e.g. in estuarine or delta marshes), and may occasionally nest in stands of rushes (Scirpus or Papyrus spp.) if reeds are unavailable.

Status: Least Concern. Global Population: 110,000-340,000. The species is threatened mainly by the loss of reed marshes owing to habitat alteration through drainage, direct destruction, changes in traditional management (e.g. changes to reed harvesting regimes), sea level rise and salt water intrusion, the effects of wave action from boat traffic at the edge of open water, and pollution. Disturbance from humans during the nesting period is also a threat (e.g. disturbance from reed cutting, noisy recreation and water-sports, motor vehicles and hunting). The hunting of adults and collecting of eggs and chicks still occurs in some areas, and the species may suffer high mortalities in very cold winters (especially in sedentary populations). It is protected by the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA).

Diet: Fish, frogs, small mammals and insects.

Nesting: This bittern is a solitary nester and has highly restrictive breeding habitat requirements. It shows a strong preference for quiet lowland marshes around lakes and rivers (less than 200 m above sea-level) with extensive dense young reedbeds of Phragmites spp. that are flooded but are fairly shallow1 (less than 30 cm deep), have few fluctuations in water-level, have low acidity and are surrounded by clear open areas.The nest is a pad of reeds and other vegetation constructed close to or floating on water amidst dense reedbeds.

Cool Facts: Its folk names include "barrel-maker", "bog-bull", "bog hen", "bog-trotter", and "butterbump", mire drum, mostly refer to the mating call of the male, which is a deep fog-horn or bull-like boom, easily audible from a distance of 2 miles on a calm night. The Latin for bittern, Botaurus, also refers to the bull. The other part of its scientific name, stellata is the Latin for starry, in reference to its plumage.

Eurasian Bittern is proposed as a rational explanation behind the mythical creature drekavac in short story Brave Mita and drekavac from the pond by Branko Ćopić.

If a bittern senses that it has been seen, it becomes motionless, with its bill pointed upward, causing it to blend into the reeds. It is most active at dawn and dusk.


Found in Songbird ReMix Shorebirds Volume II: Herons and Bitterns

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