SPECIES UP­DATE

Re­search, ed­u­ca­tion and mon­i­tor­ing are key to bring­ing our breed­ing Bit­terns back from the brink

Bird Watching (UK) - - Your Birding Month -

MBit­terns were served at a feast for the Arch­bishop of York in 1465, as well as in ex­cess of 200 Com­mon Cranes, 100 Curlews, 4,000 Mal­lard and Teal, and many other an­i­mals and birds. In me­dieval times, Bri­tain was rich in ex­ten­sive, an­cient wet­lands, sup­port­ing plen­ti­ful fish, eels, am­phib­ians, and, clearly, a very heathy pop­u­la­tion of Bit­terns. Over time, we lost these marshes and reedbeds: they were drained, pol­luted, re­claimed for agri­cul­ture, and to­day just tiny frag­ments re­main. The Bit­terns dis­ap­peared, and by 1997, there were just 11 breed­ing males in the UK. They were as good as lost, fast be­com­ing a foot­note in the story of how things used to be, though they did gain the near-myth­i­cal sta­tus that comes with elu­sive­ness and ex­treme rar­ity. Bit­terns are se­cre­tive herons, slen­der and beau­ti­fully cam­ou­flaged; per­fectly adapted to a life spent within reedbeds. Their voice, how­ever, is con­spic­u­ous and larger than life – the fa­mous ‘boom’, a far-car­ry­ing, low-pitched call, with a tim­bre likened to the sound of blow­ing across an empty milk bot­tle. Their nests are hid­den deep in the reeds, built up on plat­forms of veg­e­ta­tion in shal­low wa­ter, so of­ten the only in­di­ca­tion that a site holds a breed­ing pair is the pres­ence of a boom­ing male. How­ever, boom­ing does not nec­es­sar­ily

Bit­terns are se­cre­tive herons, slen­der and beau­ti­fully cam­ou­flaged; per­fectly adapted to a life spent within reedbeds

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