British wildlife recordings
Botaurus stellaris : Bittern - Ardeidae
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W Botaurus stellaris R1 C1
Hickling Broad, Norfolk: OS Grid Reference(641500,321500)
Bittern, Botaurus stellaris
Deep booming call of a bittern hidden in reeds in marshland at Hinkling Broad, Norfolk. 4.30 am on 13 May 1966. The species is now extinct in the area and extremely rare nationally. Very few people have seen a bittern in the wild, but considerably more have heard its totally unforgettable call. This cryptically camouflaged bird is never found far from the monoculture that is its reed-bed home and it has even mastered the art of swaying with the reeds to further ensure that it melts into the background! Although singletons can survive in small reed-beds in the winter, when summer comes they need huge tracts of this wetland habitat to enable them to find enough food to raise a brood. The booming call, sounds like a cross between a distant fog-horn and someone blowing across the top of a milk bottle and, at dawn, can be heard from a considerable distance. Each booming bird represents a male with a prime piece of reed real-estate that he will use to entice a female into producing his offspring. Numbers of this exceptionally rare heron were over-estimated for years as researchers initially estimated populations solely by counting booming males. It was not until their individual calls were recorded and analysed by computers that it was realised each male had a unique call and that the amorous males moved around the reed-beds much more than originally thought, leading to an over-estimation of numbers. In 1997 the number of males reached a precariously low-point of only eleven, but with careful recent management of its wetland habitat, the numbers have slowly begun to improve and the bittern looks increasingly likely to remain a permanent fixture of a British reed-bed dawn chorus.