Little bittern

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Little bittern
Little Bittern in Spain/Majorca
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Pelecaniformes
Family: Ardeidae
Genus: Ixobrychus
Species: I. minutus
Binomial name
Ixobrychus minutus
(Linnaeus, 1766)

Ardea minuta Linnaeus, 1766

The little bittern or common little bittern (Ixobrychus minutus) is a wading bird in the heron family, Ardeidae. Ixobrychus is from Ancient Greek ixias, a reed-like plant and brukhomai, to bellow, and minutus is Latin for "small".[2]

This bittern is native to the Old World, breeding in Africa, central and southern Europe, western and southern Asia, and Madagascar. Birds from temperate regions in Europe and western Asia are migratory, wintering in Africa and further south in Asia, while those nesting in the tropics are sedentary. It is rare north of its breeding range.[3]

In Britain there were intermittent reports of breeding in the nineteenth century, and again in 1946 and 1957, but none of these records were proven. The first proven British breeding record is from Yorkshire in 1984, and the second from Somerset in 2010.


Carl Linnaeus described the little bittern in 1766. The three subspecies are:

  • I. m. minutus(Linnaeus, 1766): nominate, found in Europe, Asia, northern Africa; winters in sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia
  • I. m. payesii(Hartlaub, 1858): found in sub-Saharan Africa, resident
  • I. m. podiceps(Bonaparte, 1855): found in Madagascar, resident

The Australian little bittern (I. dubius) and the extinct New Zealand little bittern (I. novaezelandiae) were formerly considered subspecies of the little bittern.[4]


Egg, Collection Museum Wiesbaden

It is a very small bittern; measuring 25–36 cm (9.8–14.2 in) in length, 40–58 cm (16–23 in) across the wings and weighing 59–150 g (2.1–5.3 oz). It is among the smallest heron species. It has a short neck, longish bill and buff underparts. The male's back and crown are black, and the wings are black with a large white patch on each wing. The female has a browner back and a buff-brown wing patch.


The little bittern is one of the species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds applies.


The little bittern's breeding habitat is reed beds. It nests on platforms of reeds in shrubs, and four to eight eggs are laid. It can be difficult to see, given its skulking lifestyle and reed bed habitat.

These bitterns feed on fish, insects and amphibians.


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2014). "Ixobrychus minutus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.3. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  2. ^ Jobling, James A (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London: Christopher Helm. pp. 208, 256. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4. 
  3. ^ Rasmussen, Pamela C.; Anderton, John C. (2005). Birds of South Asia. The Ripley Guide. ISBN 84-87334-67-9. 
  4. ^ Christidis, Les; Boles, Walter E. (2008). Systematics and Taxonomy of Australian Birds. CSIRO Publishing. ISBN 978-0-643-06511-6. 

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