It may be that such a bird as a bittern is not familiar to many, but by the name it immediately becomes clear that it makes unusual cries. Let’s try to figure out what this feathered person is, where she has a permanent residence permit, what dishes her menu consists of, what she looks like outwardly and what is her birdlike disposition?


Origin of the species and description

Photo: Bittern

Photo: Bittern
Author: Svetlana Medvedeva (@msvetlana012018)

The bittern is related to the heron family and the stork order. It is not difficult to guess that the name of the bird is associated with the word “shout”, i.e. screaming, and bitterns are really unusual and very strange, even a little scary.

An interesting fact: The ancient Slavs were afraid of the bittern’s cries, considering them to be the cries of all evil spirits and mermaids. People did not go one by one to the terrible marshy lands, which were considered dead. Then a belief appeared that the heard cry of a bittern in a swamp portends something bad, and the bird itself was called a symbol of ugliness.

Outwardly, the bittern is not as scary as they say but you can’t call her charming either. The appearance of the bittern is very original, of course, in appearance there are features similar to a heron, but the bird looks quite original, it can hardly be confused with any other feathered person. Let’s try to briefly describe the characteristic features of some varieties of bittern, we will give a description of the big bittern later, because. it will be more detailed.

Video: Bittern

The American Bittern is medium in size. It is distinguished by a wide and large neck and short legs, on the paws of which thick claws are clearly visible. The main range of plumage of this bird is brownish, decorated with both striped and spotted patterns. The wings have a darker shade, and the neck, on the contrary, is lighter than the main background. Belly feathered white with black patches. These birds have chosen Canada and the United States. It is not surprising that this bittern also yells, but in its own way, sometimes very sharply and for a very long time. Locals believe that this scream is similar to the noise emitted by a clogged pump.

The small bittern does not differ in large sizes, the length of its body reaches 36 cm, and its weight is about 150 grams. The coloring of feathered gentlemen differs from the attire of winged ladies. Males have a black cap with a greenish tint on their heads. On the back, their caftan has a creamy white tint, on the bottom of the feathers there are white tips, and at the base they are ocher. The beak of the male is greenish-yellow. Females have motley-brown attire, on which separate places of ocher color are visible. These birds inhabit Eurasia, Australia and the hot African continent, they are also found in our country.

The Amur top is also a species of bittern. This feathered is small-sized, the length of its body does not exceed 39 cm. The beak and limbs of the spinning top are painted yellow. The feather color has a red-brown tone, on which variegated blotches and patterns of darker shades are noticeable. These feathered persons inhabit, for the most part, Asian spaces.

Appearance and features

Photo: Bittern looks like

Photo: Bittern looks like

Let us describe the characteristic external signs and features using the example of a large bittern. As already mentioned, the appearance of a large bittern is very original. That’s why it’s big, because. among all other varieties, it has the largest, weighty sizes. Females are smaller than their cavaliers, whose weight ranges from one to two kilograms, and males grow up to 65 – 70 cm in height. The length of the wings for males is about 34 cm, and for females – 31 cm. in the range from 120 to 130 cm.

If you characterize the bird color, then on the ridge the feathers have a blackish tint with a yellow edging, on the head the color is similar. The bittern’s belly is painted in ocher color, it is decorated with a transverse pattern of brown tones. In the tail area, a yellowish-brown tone is visible with a contrasting black ornament. The bird’s tail itself is rather short and rounded at the end. It is not for nothing that the bittern has such a color, it allows the bird to perfectly disguise itself, so it is not so easy to notice the bird in the thickets of reeds and reeds, which, most often, grow in swampy areas.

The color of the beak of a large bittern is light yellow, randomly scattered dark specks clearly appear on it. The beak itself is quite powerful and has small notches. Bird eyes also have a yellow tint or slightly brownish. The bittern’s limbs are painted in a gray scale, on which a greenish tone is visible. Young growth has a lighter feather color in comparison with mature birds. When a bittern flies, its similarity to an owl is visible.

Now you know what a bittern bird looks like. Let’s see where this animal lives.

Where does the bittern live?

Photo: Bittern in flight

Photo: Bittern in flight

Distribution area large The bittern is very extensive, the bird occupies the territories of:

  • Eastern European states;
  • Portugal;
  • Iran;
  • South Palestine;
  • Afghanistan;
  • Sakhalin;
  • Japan;
  • Caucasus;
  • Transbaikalia;
  • Northwestern Mongolia;
  • Mediterranean;
  • India;
  • Northern and southern Africa.

It should be noted that the bittern does not have a uniform distribution and does not differ in abundance. Where the climate is mild, the bittern is sedentary, and in more severe and colder places it flies to winter in warmer climes, going to the African mainland, northern India, Burma, Arabia and southern China.

From the name of the bird, it is clear that the American bittern has chosen the United States, but it has also registered in Canada. When the need arises (in cold weather), the bird migrates, moving closer to Central America and the Caribbean. The Amur top likes Asian expanses.

The little bittern lives in the west of our country, she has chosen various parts of the world:

  • Africa;
  • Australia;
  • Eurasia.

As for the bittern’s habitat, its favorite places are swampy lands, viscous swamps, ponds overgrown with alder and willow. The bird is interested in places where the current is completely absent, or very weak. She can equip her nesting places on small islands of sluggish streams. The bittern loves reed and reed thickets, with which it merges with its camouflage coloration.

What does the bittern eat?

Photo: Bittern Bird

Photo: Bittern bird

In food, the bittern is unpretentious, its diet is quite diverse.

Most of all in the bird menu, the bittern is fish dishes, she is not averse to having a bite:

  • small pike;
  • carp;
  • perches;
  • molting;
  • eels.

The bittern loves to feast on frogs, eats tadpoles, small water rats, small rodents, worms, mayflies, all kinds of aquatic insects and their larvae. In general, any living creature living in the swamps is suitable for a snack of an unassuming bittern in food.

Interesting fact: In harsh times, when things are tight with food, the bittern robs, ruining other people’s nesting nests of waterfowl, from where it steals eggs and eats chicks. The bird treats its newborn offspring with tadpoles.

The bittern comes out for hunting at dusk. She looks at this time gloomy and unfriendly, all the time fluffs up, but in hunting she shows dexterity, enthusiasm, strategic abilities and sharpness. Bittern takes a few steps, then freezes in place, eyeing potential prey, then makes a swift lunge, grabbing the poor fellow with his beak, which is so tenacious that it easily holds a very slippery eel. Even entering a hunting rage, the bittern does not forget about the danger, therefore, it is always on the alert, showing vigilance and caution.

Peculiarities of character and lifestyle

Photo: Bittern from the Red Book

Photo: Bittern from the Red Book

The bittern belongs to migratory birds, it returns to the territory of our country from warm lands in the spring from March to May, it all depends on the climate of a particular area where the bird was registered. And the winged ones migrate south already in September. The bittern is a loner, and therefore it flies for the winter completely alone, without a company. In some European countries, there are sedentary birds that can die in the cold season if the reservoirs of their settlement are covered with ice.

As already reported, the bittern is active at twilight, and during the daytime it usually freezes in reeds or reeds. Standing motionless, the bird draws its head in, curls interestingly and presses one leg, on which it does not lean. The bittern is a genius of disguise, it is difficult to see it in the undergrowth, it is similar to intertwining stems. When the bird senses a threat, it immediately stretches out, its head rises up so that the whole figure begins to resemble a reed.

Terrible legends circulate about the exclamations of the bittern, they can be heard for several kilometers, especially during the wedding season. Thanks to the cries of birds, the bittern was nicknamed the “bull”, the bird is also called the “booze”. The sound can be compared to the rumble of wind blowing into pipes or a muffled bull moo. The bird produces such sounds with its swollen esophagus, which resonates so originally.

An interesting fact: In the famous work of C. Doyle about the Baskervilles dog, the frightening twilight exclamations that intimidate literary heroes belonged to the swamp bittern.

The bittern molting process occurs once a year, and lasts from August to early January. Pairs of birds form in the summer season, then they also live with chicks, and the rest of the time they prefer complete solitude. Bittern can be called an unfriendly recluse who does not like to be in society, leading her isolated and secretive life.

Social structure and reproduction

Photo: Bittern chick

Photo: Bittern chick

A bittern becomes sexually mature when it is one year old. Couples prefer an isolated family life, away from their feathered relatives. We have already mentioned how the feathered grooms of partners call with the help of their sound range. It often happens that males are looking for their chosen one for a long time, wandering through swamps and swamps. Often there are skirmishes and fights between gentlemen.

When the pair is created, the female begins to equip the nesting site, which is located in the reeds and on swampy hummocks. In the great bittern, the nest has a rounded shape, it reaches half a meter in diameter, and its sides are more than 25 cm high. serves as an outlet for birds. When the chicks grow up, the nest begins to gradually sink into the water, but caring parents build it on.

Eggs are not laid all at once, but gradually, at intervals of several days, so babies are born at different times. Usually, there are six eggs in the clutch of a bittern (maybe from 3 to 8 pieces), which the female has to incubate, and the future father is nearby, protecting and helping his chosen one when she needs to be replaced. The eggshell has a grayish-clay hue.

The incubation period lasts about four weeks. As already mentioned, the chicks hatch gradually, and the very last baby born, most often, dies. Winged cubs are covered with a thick reddish down, and a greenish tint is clearly visible on the legs, head and beak. Already at the age of three weeks, the babies are trying to get out of the nesting place in order to explore the surrounding area. Parents do not stop feeding babies up to one and a half months old. Closer to two months, the chicks begin to make their first hesitant flights.

An interesting fact: Almost from birth, bittern chicks begin to make strange and unusual exclamations, similar to the gurgling of water.

During the summer season, bitterns make one single clutch, and when a married couple fully their parental duty, and the kids go into adulthood, then the union of mature birds breaks up, because. next year they are looking for a new passion. The life span of a measured bittern is very long, the birds are able to live for about 15 years, their caution and unsurpassed talent for disguise help them in this.

Natural enemies of the bittern

Photo: Bittern in winter

Photo: Bittern in winter

The bittern lives in very inaccessible places where it is difficult for predators to reach. But, nevertheless, she has enemies, which include such predatory birds as an owl, an owl, a marsh harrier. These ill-wishers, first of all, strive to attack inexperienced young animals and small chicks. Bittern mom has a bold disposition, so for the sake of her offspring she is ready for anything, she zealously protects her nesting place, not being afraid of even large and rather angry predators.

Don’t underestimate the bittern’s disguise, which has saved many feathered lives. When the bird feels danger, it stretches its neck, lifting its head up, becoming even more inconspicuous and similar to a reed. The bittern even sways to the beat of the standing rows of reeds. If someone nevertheless discovered and attacked a bird, then it has its own defense mechanisms. Bittern sharply in the direction of the enemy burps eaten food, and then rapidly and vertically soars up.

The most insidious and invincible bird enemy is a man who invades the habitats of birds, drains marshy lands, occupies them for his own needs, because the soils there are very fertile, thereby displacing the bittern from inhabited places, which negatively affects its already small livestock. For several centuries in a row, people hunted this wading bird, feasting on its meat, which also led to a strong decrease in the number of bitterns.

Population and species status

Photo: Bittern looks like

Photo: Bittern looks like

Although the bittern’s distribution area is very extensive, the population of this bird cannot be called numerous. Where the bittern usually lives, it is found in single specimens or in pairs; birds never form large clusters. There is evidence that there are from 10 to 12 thousand pairs of birds living in Europe, in the UK there are only 20 pairs left. On the territory of our state, according to various sources, these birds are left from 10 to 30 thousand pairs. In Turkey, the bittern is considered a rarity, there are from 400 to 500 pairs of these birds left.

The bittern population is declining almost everywhere, in some regions there are catastrophically few of these birds, the large bittern is also a rarity in various countries, therefore it is under special protection. The reason for this is rash human actions, which provoked such a situation, regarding the number of birds. First of all, the drying of swamps and other water bodies, their pollution led to the fact that a huge number of birds died.

Many sedentary birds living in European territory died in severe winter periods, when the water bodies completely froze. So, the bittern population has declined significantly and this decline continues to this day, the bird is generally threatened with extinction, which cannot but worry nature conservation organizations.

Photo: Bittern from the Red Book

Photo: Bittern from the Red Book

From the above, it becomes clear that the bittern needs special protective measures, because its numbers in some regions are extremely small. In the UK, this bird has been protected for over 40 years. On the territory of Belarus, the bittern is listed in the Red Book. As for our country, the bird has been listed in the Red Book of Moscow since 2001, and in the Moscow region it has been protected since 1978. Bittern is in the red lists of the Komi Republic, Bashkortostan, Kirov region.

Almost everywhere, the main limiting factors include:

  • deterioration of the ecological situation of reservoirs;
  • decrease in the number of fish;
  • drainage of swampy and other water areas;
  • hunting for birds;
  • spring fires of dry reeds;
  • setting traps for catching muskrat.

All these factors greatly reduce the population of the bittern, so the following protective measures are necessary and taken:

  • introduction of permanent bird nesting sites into list of protected areas;
  • ban on burning coastal and aquatic vegetation;
  • increase in fines for burning reeds;
  • ban on hunting;
  • acceptance promotional measures and environmental education among the population;
  • constant monitoring of nesting sites;
  • a ban on fishing in places where bitterns nest.

In conclusion, I would like to add that even though the bittern looks unsightly, slightly eccentric, unsociable, lives like a recluse, but she is very original, very interesting and unusual. To contemplate a bittern is a great rarity and luck, but it is quite possible to hear its muffled and frightening cries. And let mystical, terrible legends develop about them, the bittern male does not give a damn about it, he only wants to charm and attract a feathered partner.

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