Little Bittern

Little Bittern – Ixobrychus minutus


  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Pelecaniformes
  • Family: Ardeidae
  • Genre: Ixobrychus
  • Species: Ixobrychus minutus

Identification characters

It is the smallest Bittern, smaller than a moorhen, the adult being 33-38 cm long. Males are yellowish in colour with a blackish mid-back and wings. Females and
young have reddish-brown plumage.


The species has a Palaearctic range, with a large range distribution. It is a migratory species, wintering mainly in central and southern Africa. The European population of the species is relatively small, ranging from 63,000 to 11,000 pairs. In Romania, the Dwarf Tern is found in the Danube Delta, but also in those inland wetlands that meet the habitat conditions. In Romania the breeding population is between 27,079 and 49,335 pairs.

Living environment and biology of the species

The Little Bittern can be seen in wetland habitats with reeds and water lustre in areas with dense aquatic vegetation. It can also be found on lake margins, ponds, stream margins where woody vegetation predominates. A summer bird in our country, it is quite hard to spot, being hidden in reeds. It lives alone or in pairs, sometimes in small groups during migration. It feeds on fish, amphibians and various invertebrates such as insects, spiders, molluscs and crustaceans. Sometimes it even catches reptiles and small birds. Predominantly active at dusk. The species is monogamous.

The nest can be located solitarily or in small colonies at least 5 m apart. Arrives at nest sites in early April. The male chooses a nest site with straw, reeds and leaves in the reed thicket to protect the young from predators. The nest is made of reeds, reeds and other plant debris and is shaped like a shallow dish. Both parents participate in nest building.

The female lays 5-7 whitish eggs with bluish-green tints in the second half of May. If conditions are favourable, the female also lays a second clutch in June. Incubation is provided by both parents. After 16-19 days the chicks hatch. They remain in the nest for 7-9 days, during which time the parents feed them with insect larvae, insects, tadpoles, and sometimes even a leech. After leaving the nest, the chicks stay around the nest and still ask for food from the parents. A month after hatching, they begin to fly, becoming able to feed themselves.

Threats and conservation measurese

The species is threatened by habitat loss and alteration, pollution and poor water management, poaching. As such, conservation measures are required, such as: observance of restrictions in riparian areas, waste management in wetlands, conservation of reedbeds and reedbeds as characteristic habitat, prohibition of reed burning, protection of nesting and feeding sites, conservation of forests in the vicinity of aquatic habitats, encouragement of measures to avoid drying up and sudden artificial change of water regime in wetlands.

Encourage the use of selective and low-toxicity agrochemicals on nearby land. In order to avoid poaching, it is recommended to control and respect hunting legislation, cooperation between environmental protection organisations, hunting organisations, the gendarmerie and the Environmental Guard. It is important to inventory current and potential breeding areas, migration, feeding and aggregation areas important for the conservation of the species. Studies on various aspects of the biology of the species, including demographic parameters, are of great importance.


  • Fântână Ciprian, Kovács Istvan, Benkő Zoltán, Daròczi Szilárd, Domșa Cristian, Veres-Szászka Judit (editors), 2022, Atlas of bird species of community interest in Romania, 2nd edition – Love birds, save nature!, Project financed by the European Regional Development Fund through the Large Infrastructure Operational Programme 2014-2020, Ministry of Environment, Water and Forests – Biodiversity Directorate, scientific coordination Romanian Ornithological Society and Association for the Protection of Birds and Nature Milvus Group, produced by EXCLUS PROD SRL, p. 114.
    Svensson (text and maps), 2017, Guide to bird identification. Europe and the Mediterranean area, translation and adaptation into Romanian: Romanian Ornithological Society, Emanuel Ștefan Baltag, Sebastian Bugariu, Alida Barbu, p. 80.
    Radu Dimitrie (1983)- Mic atlas ornitologic – Pajările lumii, Editura Albatros, București, p. 67.
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