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The Eurasian Bittern or Great Bittern (Botaurus stellaris) is a wading bird of the heron family Ardeidae.

Description

It is a large, chunky, brown bird, very similar to the American Bittern, Botaurus lentiginosa. It is 69-81 cm (24"-34") in length, with a 100-130 cm wingspan.

Distribution

It is declining in much of its temperate European and Asian range. It is resident in the milder west and south, but migrates south from areas where the water freezes in winter.

In the UK, the main areas are Lancashiremarker and East Angliamarker with an estimated 44 breeding pairs. Europe as a whole is estimated at 20-44,000 males.

Behaviour

This bittern is usually well-hidden in Phragmites reedbeds. Usually solitary, it walks stealthily seeking fish, frogs, small mammals and insects. If it 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.

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.

Surveys of Eurasian Bitterns are carried out by noting the number of distinct male booms in a given area.

The Eurasian Bittern is one of the species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) applies.

Races

Besides the Eurasian race, Botaurus s. stellaris, another race, Botaurus s. capensis exists in southern Africa, which occurs sparingly in marshes of the east coast, the Okavango Deltamarker and the upland foothills of the Drakensberg. The southern race suffered catastrophic decline during the 20th century due to wetland degradation, and unlike the northern race it is of highest conservation concern.

In Fiction

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.

References

  1. The RSPB: Bittern
  2. In Norfolk from its high fat content when eaten as food
  3. Allan, D.G., 1997. Bittern Botaurus stellaris. In: The atlas of southern African birds. Vol. 1: Non-passerines. Harrison et al., p. 79


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