The booming song of the Bittern is not going to be heard in every garden in the land but probably this year in more than for a long time. The combination of less noise from road and air vehicles with a booming population (that’s a pun that few can resist) means that the extraordinary song of the Bittern, though hardly commonplace, is certainly much commoner.
In 1997 there were just 11 booming male Bitterns in the UK. We knew that because the ‘booms’ are individually distinct. If you record a singing, booming, Bittern and have a look at its sonogram then you can distinguish different males, and their booms are recognisable from year to year.
Last year there were 198 booming Bitterns in the UK – that’s an amazing recovery which has been brought about by a science-led conservation programme involving monitoring of numbers, research on what Bitterns really need, improved habitat management based on the research, and habitat recreation on quite a large scale. The RSPB led that recovery but many other organisations, notably the Wildlife Trusts, National Trust and Natural England were also involved and a large amount of the funding came from the EU (remember the EU?).
Bitterns are reedbed-nesting herons and they eat a wide variety of wetland species – large invertebrates, frogs and many fish species but they are quite keen on eels. They are difficult to see because they spend most of their lives in the long grass – in reedbeds where the reeds are much taller than the Bitterns. Also, Bitterns are the same colour as their reedbed habitat and if they are alarmed they will adopt an upright, still pose which makes them even more difficult to spot.
But their low-pitched booming songs are far-carrying, weird and highly evocative of the reedbed habitat.
Here are Bitterns from, first the Netherlands (with a loud Cetti’s Warbler after c24 seconds too):
… and from Hungary (with Dabchick and warblers) ;
… and from the UK (with a Great Spotted Woodpecker):
Quite a sound!