Little Bittern (Ixobrychus minutus)

Little Bittern

[order] CICONIIFORMES | [family] Ardeidae | [latin] Ixobrychus minutus | [authority] Linnaeus, 1766 | [UK] Little Bittern | [FR] Blongios nain | [DE] Zwergdommel | [ES] Mirasol Pequeno | [NL] Woudaapje


Monotypic species


Ixobrychus is a genus of bitterns, a group of wading bird in the heron family Ardeidae. It has a single representative species in each of North America, South America, Eurasia and Australasia. The tropical species are largely resident, but the two northern species are partially migratory, with many birds moving south to warmer areas in winter. The Ixobrychus bitterns are all small species, their four larger relatives being in the genus Botaurus. They breed in large reedbeds, and can often be difficult to observe except for occasional flight views due to their secretive behaviour.

Physical charateristics

This bird is distinguishable from other herons because it is very small, its head and upper body are dark, its wing covers are cream coloured and very conspicuous, and its lower body is light coloured. The male’s head and back are black with green highlights; the female has brown stripes on its upper body and tawny stripes on its lower body; its wing covers are also tawny but less evident. Its beak is yellowish and its legs green. It flies very low, with quick wing beats and long gliding movements.

Listen to the sound of Little Bittern

[audio: Bittern.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 49 cm wingspan max.: 58 cm
size min.: 33 cm size max.: 38 cm
incubation min.: 17 days incubation max.: 19 days
fledging min.: 25 days fledging max.: 19 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 4  
      eggs max.: 8  


Eurasia, Africa : South, Central Europe to Central Asia, Northwest India, Africa.


From dense forest to deserts and from lowlands to hills.
Fresh water, areas with aquatic vegetation or on forested margins of shallow rivers, streams, pools, ponds, lakes, swamps and mangroves.


It nests from May in dense thickets and along canals. It is not a colonial bird; the nest is constructed by twigs and measures a diameter of approximately 12-15 cm. The 4-6 eggs usually laid are whitish-green and are brooded by both sexes for 17-19 days.

Feeding habits

Very varied diet, including Fish, frogs, spiders, small reptiles and birds.
Feeds around dawn and dusk but can feed during day.
Mainly feeds alone like all Ixobrychus, by standing motionless or “walking slowly” partially hidden amidst vegetation.

Video Little Bittern


copyright: youtube


This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Ixobrychus minutus is a widespread summer visitor to much of central and southern
Europe, which accounts for less than a quarter of its global breeding range. Its
European breeding population is relatively small (<120,000 pairs), and underwent a large decline between 1970-1990. Although the species was stable overall during 1990-2000, with stable or increasing trends across much of its European range (Turkey being a notable exception), its population has clearly not yet recovered to the level that preceded its decline.
This small heron inhabits a large part of Africa, Eurasia from the Iberian Peninsula and the Baltic coast to western China and Pakistan. It also occurs in Australia. The European populations are mainly wintering in tropical and southern Africa. Since 20-25 years they are strongly declining, and in several regions this decline reaches about 50-80%. The population of the European Union is estimated at 4300-6500 breeding pairs (Tucker & Heath). This decline cannot be explained solely by problems encountered in the breeding areas, like wetland reclamation, pollution and disturbance. Its seems also to be linked to problems in the winter quarters, especially the increasing climatic dryness which is responsible for the disappearance of many wetlands in the Sahel Region
Little Bittern status Least Concern


Migratory and dispersive. Post-fledging dispersal late July to early September, random in direction; merges into southward migration in August-September as adults depart, with few (mainly juveniles) left in Europe after October. Principal winter quarters of west Palearctic breeders east Africa, from Sudan and Ethiopia west to Congo and south to Transvaal and eastern Cape Province. Not infrequently appears in Azores, Madeira, and Canary Islands, while migration through Iberia and occurrences Moroccan and Algerian oases suggest that some winter in west Africa. Return across Mediterranean Basin from mid-March; breeding areas of central Europe and south Russia reoccupied in April and first week of May.

Distribution map

Little Bittern distribution range map


Title Evidence of prenuptial moult in the Little Bittern Ixobrychus minutus
Author(s): Francesco Pezzo* and Andrew G. Gosler
Abstract: Evidence for a partial prenuptial moult in the Lit..[more]..
Source: Ringing & Migration (2005) 22, 129-132

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