Britain's loudest bird is back! How the once extinct bitter is booming | bird - petsitterbank

Britain’s loudest bird is back! How the once extinct bitter is booming | bird

Surname: bitters.

AKA: Botaurus stellaris.

Age: First described in 1603, so older than that.

Appearance: Extremely difficult to see.

Why? Their speckled brown plumage makes them hard to pick out against the backdrop of the reed beds where they hang out. So, they were extinct in Britain by the 1870s.

Oh no! How come? A combination of hunting and loss of habitat – the UK’s wetlands were being extensively drained back then. Bitter numbers were down to zero for about 25 years.

That’s sad. Don’t worry – the bitter is back, baby.

Sorry if this is a stupid question, but if they’re so hard to see, how do we know? Because we can hear them – the bitter is also Britain’s loudest bird.

Really? What does it sound like? A bit like someone blowing across the top of a jug, but much louder. The booming call of the male bittern can be heard up to three miles away.

How does a little bird make a sound like that? For a long time nobody knew. In Chaucer’s day it was widely believed that bitters jammed their beaks into the mud to make the surrounding bog water reverberate.

But they don’t. No, they just expand their gullets to create a sort of echo chamber, producing their trademark foghorn sound.

For such a secretive bird, making a foghorn noise every day seems a trifle counterproductive. Maybe, but it’s how we count them: there were a record-breaking 228 males in 2021, according to the RSPB, up from 209 in 2019, and a massive improvement on the mere 11 males counted in 1997.

If you’re just going by noise, how do you know you’re not counting the same bird more than once? Bitterns call out to mark their territories, so if you plot and triangulate each call, you can get a reckoning of who lives where.

And where do all the bitters live? All over: Lancashire, Lincolnshire, Yorkshire, East Anglia, Kent, the West Country, even London. In 2020 there were breeding pairs found in Wales for the first time in at least 200 years.

Smitten bitters back in Britain – but why? It’s down to massive conservation work, notably the restoration and recreation of reed beds across the country.

This is a good news story with no downside, am I right? I suppose ships at sea could get confused, but for the most part, yes.

Do say: “Move over crows and seagulls, there’s a new loudest bird in town!”

Don’t say: “Shut up!”

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