Once bittern, twice shy

Thursday 14 January 2010, 10:34

Martin Aaron Martin Aaron

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I thought I'd write a quick blog about bitterns seeing as we've had three great photos of these amazing birds in the space of a few days.

This one came into our Flickr group from Ken Bray who saw this bird taking off from a canal in Glamorgan.
bittern_kenbray54.jpg


Bitterns are some of the rarest birds in the UK but do seem to be making a comeback. Just 12 yrs ago they were on the verge of extinction but numbers are steadily rising and more birds are now being spotted in England and Wales.

The rely heavily on habitat and prefer shallow wetlands with plenty of well managed reed beds with varying water levels.

A recent bittern on the ice at Hendre Lake in Cardiff by Moses Davies:
bittern.jpg


Bitterns are a type of heron - short and stocky with a distinctive browny/ orange plumage made up stripes and bars which help make them almost impossible to spot in the dense reed beds where they live and nest.

They are incredibly secretive and will often stand motionless with their necks and beaks pointing straight up at the sky, in order to blend in even better with the upright reeds surrounding them.

Another great shot from Moses Davies which shows just how well these birds can hide:
bittern_moses.jpg


Their short, sharp beaks are a lethal weapon for hunting small fish, mammals, frogs, eels etc.

From February onwards the males begin making their distinctive 'booming' call to attract a mate and you'll often here bitterns in wetland areas without ever actually seeing them.

The sound can carry for quite some distance too. You can listen to a bittern 'booming' on the RSPB website.

Winter is a good time to see them as the reed beds thin out and they'll often venture out more into the open in search of food and water during harsh winter weather.

At Leighton Moss Reserve in England they are so worried about bitterns starving to death that the RSPB wardens have resorted to putting small fish out onto the ice to help feed the birds.

If you've seen a bittern recently then tell us where in the comments section of this blog or send in your pics to me here at wales.nature@bbc.co.uk.

Gull

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