Ixobrychus minutus (Linnaeus, 1766)
Family: Pelecaniformes > Ardeidae
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.
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.
|UK Birds of Conservation Concern||Amber listed|
|Species of European Conservation Concern||Least Concern|
|IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (global)||Least Concern|
|Schedule 1 license required (to disturb)||No|
|Birds Directive Annex 1||No|
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.
Occupied 10-km squares in UK
|No. occupied in breeding season||1|
|% occupied in breeding season||0.03|
European Distribution Map
|% change in range in winter (1981–84 to 2007–11)||--100%|
Little Bitterns are rare summer overshoot migrants and occasional breeders.
Information about movement and migration based on online bird portals (e.g. BirdTrack), Ringing schemes and tracking studies.
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
|Field Codes||2-letter: LL | 5-letter code: LITBI | Euring: 980|
For information in another language (where available) click on a linked name
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.
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