Little bittern

Ixobrychus minutus

The little bittern is the smallest Ardeidae of the Iberian Peninsula, where it spends the summer. It lives in the shore of lakes, rivers and marshes, where it passes most of the time hiding in the reeds, waiting to catch fish, invertebrates, amphibians and small reptiles, on which it feeds.
It dwells along all the Subsaharian Africa and migrates to Europe and Asia in spring to reproduce

Natural habit

Resident in Africa south of the Sahara and summering in Europe to Mongolia and northern India

Little bittern
  • Distribution / Resident
  • Breeding
  • Wintering
  • Subspecies

Risk level

  • Extint
  • Extint in the wild
  • Critically endangered
  • In Danger
  • Vulnerable
  • Near threatened
  • Minor concern
  • Insufficient data
  • Not evaluated
Least Concern



Physical characteristics

59-150 g
Birth Weight:
27-38 cm
Up to 7 years


Social life


3 to 6

Discover how they are



The little bittern is—at only 35 cm long—the smallest Ardeidae on the Iberian Peninsula. Males are a bit different than females, as they have a golden colouring on their wings, with white tones on the flight feathers and neck, and an orange hued chest, a black cap that runs from the crown to the nape and a completely black dorsal. Conversely, the females are more monotone in general colouring, as the dorsal and wings are brown, as well as the neck, which is a bit lighter brown. However, like males, they have a black cap and similar beak colour, a pumpkin colour mixed with yellowish tones.


It is distributed across a wide variety of habitats, ranging from wooded shores to reed beds, but always close to freshwater such as swamps, rivers and lakes.


Its food varies depending on the region and time of year, although it primarily feeds on fish and invertebrates of diverse origins. Sometimes, in areas of abundance, it feeds on medium-sized amphibians and reptiles.


The breeding period starts in spring, albeit later than other resident Ardeidae species, and is generally solitary, although at times it forms small colonies with other Ardeidae species. It creates conical nests with twigs and all types of plant matter, normally over aquatic vegetation, although it can also nest in trees and bushes on the shores of lagoons and lakes. Females lay between two and nine whitish eggs with green tones, although three or four eggs is most common, which are incubated by both members of the couple for 16 to 21 days.


Resident of all of sub-Saharan Africa, it arrives in Europe and part of Asia in the springtime, where it displays a purely reproductive and summering conduct. Around mid-September or October, it starts to return to its wintering grounds, in the southern Sahara. It migrates mainly at night. Its behaviour is discrete and somewhat enigmatic, as it spends almost all its time hidden among the reeds awaiting opportunities to capture prey.

Status and conservation programs

Despite not being endangered anywhere in the world, in many points in Europe it has gradually been disappearing since the mid-20th century, due to polluted waters, ongoing droughts and the destruction of habitat favourable for breeding.  In Catalonia, their situation is stable, although increasingly fewer individuals come here to breed. The source of the problem seems to be in their African wintering grounds, where the constant droughts and lack of protected habitat are making populations drop, which affects the contingent of birds arriving to Europe each summer.