The little bittern is a smaller cousin of the great bittern and also the smallest of the herons living in Europe. If it is only possible, it is even more secretive and elusive than the great bittern. The latter, at least can be heard. At the time of danger it straightens up like a string and becomes motionless. Its long, sharp bill helps to catch fish, amphibians and large aquatic insects.
Little bitterns build their nests among reeds and rushes in different types of reservoirs - lakes, ponds, clay pit ponds, oxbow lakes. The male begins construction – finishing depends on a female. Extremely gripping and long toes allow the little bittern to run and climb up the stems of reeds. It is rather reluctant when it comes to flying. When forced it flies quietly and low - directly over rushes, rarely above the surface of the water.
Little bitterns arrive in Poland in April and remain until October. They spend winter in Africa.
Little bitterns used to serve people as weather barometers. Today they are very rare. It is estimated that in Poland there are around 700 pairs hatched - with a downward trend due to disappearance and degradation of their habitats. The few remaining and overgrown swampy ponds are being reclaimed whereas larger lakes and rivers are being rapidly set up with tourist infrastructure areas.
Yet little bitterns are very shy birds, sensitive to any disturbance associated with the so-called anthropopressure. Progressive desertification and the loss of suitable winter habitats in Africa results, in turn, in a higher mortality of birds during migration.
Author: Jacek Karczewski Source: Birds of Poland