Little Bittern: 15 Facts You Won’t Believe!

How many fun little bittern facts do you know? Come brush up your knowledge with these fast facts!

Ardeidae is comprised of 64 recognized species of which some are referred to as bitterns rather than herons. Herons are birds with long necks and long legs. The little bittern (Ixobrychus minutus) is one of the smallest and most adorable birds that you will find in the world. These species originate in the old world but you will be surprised to know that the little bittern (Ixobrychus minutus) has a very big breeding range from Madagascar to the Himalayas and are found to be in Africa breeding, western and southern Asia, central and southern Europe, and Madagascar. The little bitterns that are found in temperate regions in Western Asia and Europe, mostly migrate to Africa and continue moving further south to Asia.

The scientific name of little bittern is Ixobrychus minutus and it belongs to the family Ardeidae.  Ixobrychus is derived from a Greek word ixias meaning a reed-like plant and minutus is a Latin word that means small. The New Zealand little bittern (I. novaezelandiae) which is now extinct and the Australian little bittern (I. dubius) were also considered subspecies of the little bittern.

Want to know more about this little bittern bird, see its photos, and read about its habitat and migration around the world? Then scroll on! Do not forget to take a look at the Cape starling and Atlantic canary too.

Little Bittern

Fact File

What do they prey on?

Fishes, amphibians, and insects

What do they eat?


Average litter size?


How much do they weigh?

2.1-5.3 oz (59–150 g)

How long are they?

13–15 in (33-38 cm)

How tall are they?


What do they look like?

Green black crown and brown-black upperparts

Skin Type


What are their main threats?


What is their conservation status?

Least Concern

Where you'll find them

Freshwater wetlands


Africa, western and southern Asia, central and southern Europe, and Madagascar





Scientific Name

Ixobrychus minutus





Little Bittern Interesting Facts

What type of animal is a little bittern?

The little bittern (Ixobrychus minutus) is a type of bird belonging to the family herons. It is one of the smallest birds in the family of Ardeidae.

What class of animal does a little bittern belong to?

The little bittern (Ixobrychus minutus) is a bird belonging to the class of Aves. Ixobrychus minutus minutus, Ixobrychus minutus podiceps, and Ixobrychus minutus payesii are the three subspecies of little bittern.

How many little bitterns are there in the world?

Although the population of little bittern (Ixobrychus minutus) is decreasing, there are about 600000-1199999 little bittern birds present in the world. So while they may not be fully endangered yet, they will still be sighted relatively rarely. The population of sunbittern (another bird of bittern species ) is about 500,000-4,999,999 mature individuals.

Where does a little bittern live?

The little bittern (Ixobrychus minutus) is found throughout the world as it has a very huge breeding range. These birds are native to the Old World and are frequently found breeding in Africa, western and southern Asia, central and southern Europe, and Madagascar. The birds were seen in temperate regions of Europe and western Asia migrate to Africa and then move further south to Asia. The European bittern migrates very far in the south till the eastern cape.

What is a little bittern's habitat?

The little bittern (Ixobrychus minutus) has a wide distribution of habitat all around the world and is most commonly found in freshwater wetlands with thick herbaceous vegetation. Wooded and marshy edges of streams and rivers, peat bogs, pools, reservoirs, oases, swamps, edges of lakes, wet grasslands, mangroves, salt marshes, lagoons reed swamps are all part of this vegetation in which these birds are found.

Who do little bitterns live with?

The little bittern (Ixobrychus minutus) is a solitary bird and is mostly seen flying alone but sometimes, it flies in small groups at night while migrating. These birds do spend most of their life cycle by themselves, but will occasionally be seen in groups when traveling long distances to keep themselves safe.

How long does a little bittern live?

These species of little bittern (Ixobrychus minutus) birds are expected to live for about 10 years. However, in select cases where they have been taken into captivity, their lifespan has reduced dramatically, which is why it is not advisable to capture these birds.

How do they reproduce?

The nesting season of this little bittern (Ixobrychus minutus) bird is quite variable as it can be found in different habitats all across the world, like in Africa nesting is observed in May-July. The nest is found to be at herbaceous vegetations most preferably near open water bodies and is fitted inside reed or grass. The male claims breeding territory by making a croaking sound to announce his presence. About five or six eggs are laid in the nest in a single brood and then for about 17-19 days, incubation takes place after which the eggs are hatched. For the first two days, the young one eats the food from the nest floor then after some days, the young ones feed themselves by grabbing their parent's bill. The chicks are then ready to fly after 25-30 days.

What is their conservation status?

Even though the population trend of the species of little bittern (Ixobrychus minutus) appears to be declining, the conservation status of this little bittern (Ixobrychus minutus) bird is classified as Least Concern by the IUCN red list as the rate of reduction is not thought to be fast enough to reach the Vulnerable criteria under the population trend criterion and the distribution of these little bittern birds is throughout the world.

Little Bittern Fun Facts

What do little bitterns look like?

The male adult of this bird has a crown that is black in color with a subtle green gloss. They also have a yellow-colored bill with a brown-colored upper edge and a panel with a pink buff oval form is present on the wings created by wing coverts on the inside. Compared with the male, the female little bittern is duller and the upper parts are brown with pale brown wing patches. The color of chick is different in all the three subspecies as a pinky buff for the minutus, reddish buff in the payesii, and pink to brown buff in the podiceps.

The little bittern (Ixobrychus minutus) is one of the smallest herons with a long broad neck and a pointed bill.

How cute are they?

These small species are definitely one of the cutest around! Not only are they little and adorable, but their thick neck, sharp bill, and green-black crown are enough to dazzle anyone. But, if you do see one, make sure you stay away from them because they can be shy little birds!

How do they communicate?

To communicate with each other the birds of these species use low-frequency calls as it covers larger distance as compared to the high-frequency sounds. During the breeding season, the male makes a bizarre and croaking sound which is called a 'kohr' call. The male uses this 'kohr' call to announce his arrival to which the female responds with a quieter sound.

How big is a little bittern?

The little bittern (Ixobrychus minutus) is the smallest bird in the heron family that is seen breeding in Europe. It has a length of about 13–15 in (33-38 cm) and the wingspan is in the range of 20–23 in (52-58 cm). While the other bittern bird, the American bittern is an average-sized wading bird that measures a length up to 23-34 in (58.4-86.4 cm).

How fast can a little bittern fly?

No concrete data is available for the speed of these little bittern (Ixobrychus minutus) birds. However,  do not be fooled by their tiny size. The little bittern (Ixobrychus minutus) can fly at very high speeds due to its wing shape and small size.

How much does a little bittern weigh?

The little bittern (Ixobrychus minutus) bird's weight is around 2.1-5.3 oz (59 – 150 g) which is very little when compared with the weight of other birds of the heron family.

What are the male and female names of the species?

There is no particular name assigned to the male and female of the little bittern species. The female is very different in comparison to the male as it is duller.

What would you call a baby little bittern?

There is no particular name for a baby little bittern (Ixobrychus minutus). The juvenile that hatches from the eggs is very dull in color and their upperparts and underparts, including their wing coverts, are more extensively streaked.

What do they eat?

The little bittern diet includes fishes, amphibians, and insects. They eat with their head and neck withdrawn. This bird stalks its prey from the edge of the water and starts moving towards them slowly with a crouched posture and its head forward as soon as they are close to their prey they extend their neck and stab.

Are they dangerous?

This species of little bittern (Ixobrychus minutus) is not dangerous and is completely harmless to humans.

Would they make a good pet?

No, the little bittern (Ixobrychus minutus) birds would not make a good pet as they are migratory birds and are not readily suitable for captivity. In addition to their lives in the wild, they have very shrill, high-pitched calls which they use to attract mates and warn of danger. It is a singular, high note that is repeated over and over.

Did you know...

The New Zealand little bittern (Ixobrychus novaezelandiae) is an intriguing and extinct species of Ardeidae herons. It was only found in New Zealand and was last seen in the 1890s. New Zealand bittern, spotted heron, and Kaorik are the common names of this species.  

In 1766, Carl Linnaeus described the three subspecies of little bittern, first is Ixobrychus minutus minutus which is found in Europe, northern Africa, and South Asia, and the second one is Ixobrychus minutus podiceps seen in sub-Saharan Africa and the last one is Ixobrychus minutus payesii which is commonly seen in Madagascar.

Naming the little bittern bird

The little bittern bird is named as such because of its small size. They are one of the smallest birds in the heron family with a length of about 13-15 in (33-38 cm). The scientific name of the little bittern bird is Ixobrychus minutus and in Latin, minutus stands for small. Another small bird of this family (Ardeidae) is the little blue heron, about 25–30 in (53-58 cm) long.

Comparisons with other birds of the heron family

The little bittern bird differs from the yellow bittern bird as it is slightly larger, has a shorter bill, has a black back rather than brown, and has a white to gray buff wing patch rather than yellow buff. The dark back and cap set the little bittern apart from the cinnamon bitterns. The little bittern bird is very similar to the yellow bittern and least bittern as all of these bittern birds have a slender bill along with uniform dorsal coloration.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about some other birds from our gnatcatcher facts and carrion crow facts pages.

You can even occupy yourself at home by coloring in one of our free printable mockingbird coloring pages.



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