Little Bittern

Ixobrychus minutus (Linnaeus, 1766) LL LITBI 980
Family: Pelecaniformes > Ardeidae

Little Bittern, Philip Croft

Despite the now annual handful of breeding attempts, the Little Bittern remains a rare visitor to our shores.

This is a very small member of the heron family, about the size of a pigeon. Both sexes have a white wing panel, the male with black upperparts, the female brown. Little Bitterns migrate to Britain & Ireland in spring with most recorded from April. They return to Africa in the autumn.

The Little Bittern is a secretive and crepuscular species, which, together with the preferred reedbed habitat, makes this a very difficult species to observe and survey.

Select a topic for more facts and statistics about the Little Bittern

  • Breeding
  • Winter


Little Bittern identification is often straightforward.


Listen to example recordings of the main vocalisations of Little Bittern, provided by xeno-canto contributors.


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Status and Trends

Population size and trends and patterns of distribution based on BTO surveys and atlases with data collected by BTO volunteers.


This species can be found on the following statutory and conservation listings and schedules.


We have no population estimates for this scarce species.


The status of the Little Bittern as a breeding species remains uncertain after a sequence of breeding records from 2009 to 2017 in Somerset were followed by a blank year in 2018, but a calling male was again present in 2019 (Eaton et al. 2021). The species is highly secretive and thus difficult to monitor


In addition to being rare migrants, Little Bitterns have recently bred in Somerset.

Little Bittern breeding distribution 2008-11
Britain and Ireland Breeding Distribution 2008-2011.
More from the Atlas Mapstore.

Occupied 10-km squares in UK

European Distribution Map

European Breeding Bird Atlas 2



Little Bitterns are rare summer overshoot migrants and occasional breeders.

Weekly occurence of Little Bittern from BirdTrack
Weekly occurrence patterns (shaded cells) and reporting rates (vertical bars) based on BirdTrack data. Reporting rates give the likelihood of encountering the species each week.


Information about movement and migration based on online bird portals (e.g. BirdTrack), Ringing schemes and tracking studies.


View a summary of recoveries in the Online Ringing Report.


Lifecycle and body size information about Little Bittern, including statistics on nesting, eggs and lifespan based on BTO ringing and nest recording data.


Sample sizes are too small to report Productivity and Nesting statistics for this species.


Sample sizes are too small to report Biometrics for this species.

Feather measurements and photos on featherbase


For information in another language (where available) click on a linked name

Gaelic: Corra-ghràin-bheag
Welsh: Aderyn Bwn Lleiaf
Catalan: martinet menut comú
Czech: bukácek malý
Danish: Dværghejre
Dutch: Woudaap
Estonian: väikehüüp
Finnish: pikkuhaikara
French: Blongios nain
German: Zwergdommel
Hungarian: törpegém
Icelandic: Rindilþvari
Irish: Bonnán Beag
Italian: Tarabusino
Latvian: mazais dumpis
Lithuanian: mažasis baublys
Norwegian: Dvergrørdrum
Polish: baczek (zwyczajny)
Portuguese: garçote
Slovak: buciacik mociarny
Slovenian: capljica
Spanish: Avetorillo común
Swedish: dvärgrördrom


Interpretation and scientific publications about Little Bittern from BTO scientists.


Causes of change

This species may be in the early stages of colonising the UK. The drivers of change are unclear and specualtive but climate change may have prompted range expansion and the creation of reedbed habitat within the UK for other species has ensured that suitable habitat is available.

Links to more information from

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