The Little Bittern (Ixobrychus minutus) is a wading bird in the heron family Ardeidae, native to the Old World, breeding in Africa, central and southern Europe, western and southern Asia, and Australasia. Birds from temperate regions in Europe and western Asia are migratory, wintering in Africa and further south in Asia, while those nesting in the tropics are sedentary. It is rare north of its breeding range. The Australian race dubius is often regarded as a separate species, Black-backed Bittern.
It is a very small bittern; at 27-36 cm in length, 40-58 cm wingspan and 60-150 g weight. The smallest specimens are perhaps the smallest herons on earth. It has a short neck, longish bill and buff underparts. The male's back and crown are black, and the wings are black with a large white patch on each wing. The female has a browner back and a buff-brown wing patch.
There are four subspecies:
- Ixobrychus minutus minutus (Linnaeus, 1766). Europe, Asia, northern Africa; winters in sub-saharan Africa and southern Asia.
- Ixobrychus minutus payesii (Hartlaub, 1858). Sub-saharan Africa, resident.
- Ixobrychus minutus podiceps (Bonaparte, 1855). Madagascar, resident.
- Ixobrychus minutus dubius (Matthews, 1912). Australia, New Guinea, resident.
The extinct New Zealand Little Bittern (Ixobrychus novaezelandiae) was formerly also treated as a subspecies of Little Bittern.
The Little Bittern is one of the species to which the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) applies.
Little Bitterns are not listed as threatened on the Australian Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. However, their status varies from state to state within Australia. For example:
- The Little Bittern is listed as threatened on the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act (1988). Under this Act, an Action Statement for the recovery and future management of this species has not yet been prepared.
- On the 2007 advisory list of threatened vertebrate fauna in Victoria, the Little Bittern is listed as endangered.
The Little Bittern's breeding habitat is reedbeds. It nests on platforms of reeds in shrubs, and 4-8 eggs are laid. It can be difficult to see, given its skulking lifestyle and reedbed habitat.
These bitterns feed on insects, fish and amphibians.
An adult during ringing in northern Italy
An immature camouflaged in its reedbed habitat
An immature in the open, but still in water