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Alternative names: Great Bittern
75 cm a large bird of reed beds. Tawny, mottled brown body with dark streaks, black crown. Knife like bill.
 Similar Species
American Bittern is smaller; has no black crown, but instead a black patch on the side of the neck.
Eurasia and Africa.
Asia: More widespread to the east occurring across much of temperate Asia from the Caspian to the Pacific coast breeding in the Russian Far East and Sakhalin, perhaps also Hokkaido (Japan). A widespread winter visitor in southern China and northern India. Single records from southern India, Sri Lanka and some countries in south-east Asia.
Africa north of the Sahara: Resident and winter visitor in the Nile delta and in one to two locations west of that along the Mediterranean coast.
Africa south of the Sahara: subspecies capensis is resident discontinuously from southern Tanzania and Zambia south to the southern Africa where rare. This race is probably resident with local movements; these may be governed by rains but is also described as poorly understood. Nominate race occurs along the Nile to Kenya and spread from there to Nigeria.
There are 2 subspecies:
Densely vegetated swamps with small areas of open water but prefers extensive reedbeds. Sometimes in smaller reed-patches or other vegetation but rarely seen in the open.
On passage and in winter may become more obvious and occurs in a wider range of wet habitats, sometimes around disused gravel-pits and reservoirs.
The bird is secretive and very difficult to spot if it does not break cover. It is superbly camouflaged for its reed bed habitat and uses this to stalk its prey.
It feeds in a similar manner to the Grey Heron, stabbing and snapping with its sharp beak and can remain hunched and utterly motionless for hours at a time.
When moving it is generally in a slow, creeping stalk that is difficult to pick out though it does sometimes dart rapidly forwards.
Bitterns do fly from reed bed to reed bed and this is a good time to spot them. Their flight is low and rapid with relatively slow, powerful, purposeful wingbeats.
Male Bitterns make a booming call to announce territory and display to potential mates.
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