Key facts

Scientific name: Botaurus stellaris

Status: Resident breeding species and winter migrant

Breeding birds: 80 pairs

Wintering birds: 600

Conservation status: Red

Length: 64 – 81 cm

Wingspan: 100 – 130 cm

Weight: 865 – 1940 g


Bitterns are stocky, bulky herons with thick necks. They are golden brown with a black crown.

Bitterns’ underparts are paler with dark streaks and the breast, belly and flanks are streaked with reddish-brown.

Their yellow bills are long and pointed and their eyes are reddish-orange.

Juvenile bitterns look similar to the adults but have fewer markings.


Bitterns build their nests in reedbeds. Females build the nest alone making a floating platform from reeds and aquatic plants and line it with finer materials.

Bitterns lay 4-5 eggs between April and May. The eggs are greenish-brown with brown spots.

Incubation takes about 26 days by the female alone. Females also feed the chicks who leave the nest after about 12 days and leave the nest between June and August.


Bitterns eat a varied diet of fish, amphibians and insects. They have also been known to eat small mammals and in some parts of Europe eels form a principal part of their diet.


Where to see them

Bitterns are found in wetlands with large reedbeds. They are most visible during the winter.



Did you know?

A bittern’s boom, emitted by males during breeding season, can be heard up to 2 km away.

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