Common Little Bittern

Ixobrychus minutus

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The common little bittern - an older name is little egret - is the smallest of the herons of Europe measuring around 30 cm in size, which is roughly the size of a jay. A shy bird, it is a master of disguise and keeps itself well hidden. When threatened or disturbed the little bittern assumes a defensive pose, known as bitterning. In this position, it points its neck and head replete with its dagger-shaped bill directly upwards so that, thanks to its patterned feathers, blends in among the surrounding reed beds. They are easier to identify when in flight. As with all herons, during flight the little bittern folds its neck in an s-shape. Little bitterns are found in many parts of Europe and in western Asia. They migrate long distances and spend the winter in central and southern Africa. Their habitats consist of bodies of water and wetlands with ample rushes and reed beds. They are now rare in Germany and are considered a threatened species. The principal cause of this is the destruction of their habitats due to land consolidation. Their diet consists principally of fish although insects, amphibians, worms, snails, eggs and young birds are also to be found on the menu. Courtship begins in March when their loud cawing song can be heard. The little bittern builds its nest of twigs, reed and rushes among the thick vegetation, just above the water’s surface. A typical clutch consists of up to 6 white eggs. The chicks hatch after about 19 days and are fully fledged after 30 days.

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