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This species is listed as Endangered because it has a very small and rapidly declining population owing to the loss and degradation of its wetland habitats. Urgent action is a priority to halt declines in Australia.
Christidis, L.; Boles, W. E. 2008. Systematics and taxonomy of Australian birds. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.
Turbott, E. G. 1990. Checklist of the birds of New Zealand. Ornithological Society of New Zealand, Wellington.
71 cm. Large, brown bittern. Brown-and-buff mottling. Thick neck. Partly nocturnal. Voice Deep booming calls during breeding.
It has fairly specific habitat preferences, preferring shallow, vegetated freshwater or brackish swamps where there is a mixture of short and tall emergent sedges and rushes (Garnett 1992). It has been recorded in rice paddies in the Murray Darling basin, but it is not thought to use such habitats for breeding (G. Dutson in litt. 2008). It usually lays four eggs. It feeds, mostly at night, on fish, eels, frogs, freshwater crayfish and aquatic insects (Heather and Robertson 1997). The population seems to increase rapidly in good years and decline rapidly in poor ones (S. Garnett in litt. 2003). The species appears to disperse widely, including to coastal wetlands during periods of drought and to ephemeral wetlands during and after periods of rainfall (Garnett et al. 2011).
In Australia and New Zealand, the main threats are wetland drainage for agriculture, as well as changes brought about by high levels of grazing and salinisation of swamps (Garnett 1992, B. D. Bell in litt. 1994, Garnett and Crowley 2000). In Australia, the species appears able to adapt to the availability of ephemeral wetlands, but is likely to be particularly sensitive to the destruction of drought refugia. Loss of these habitats may explain its decline in Western and South Australia (Garnett and Crowley 2000). The Murray-Darling basin, a former stronghold of the species, has suffered consecutive droughts in recent years and over-extraction of water is an on-going problem (H. Ford in litt. 2008, R. Loyn in litt. 2008). In Australia, introduced red foxes Vulpes vulpes are thought to take eggs and juveniles (Smith et al. 1995). Overgrazing and inappropriate fire regimes can also reduce habitat suitability (Marchant and Higgins 1990). Nests have been reported to be abandoned following visits by people, implying that the species is sensitive to disturbance (O'Donnell 2011). Shooting and flying into powerlines are additional contributory causes (B. D. Bell in litt. 1994), but hunting pressure is very low (N. Barré in litt. 2003).
Conservation Actions Underway
In Australia, Bool Lagoon and Lake Muir are managed specifically for the species (Garnett and Crowley 2000). Recent initiatives by the Threatened Bird Network in Australia to survey Painted Snipe Rostratula benghalensis australis will contribute to the information on the distribution of this species (C. Tzaros and M. A. Weston in litt. 2003, G. Dutson in litt. 2008). BirdLife Australia (formerly Birds Australia) started a Bittern Project in 2007. In 2011, the species was added to the list of Australia's threatened species recognised by the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act as Endangered. Conservation Actions Proposed
Complete field surveys to determine its current global distribution, status and key sites for conservation (N Barré in litt. 1999, C. O'Donnell in litt. 1999, Garnett and Crowley 2000). Develop methods for assessing population trends (Garnett and Crowley 2000). Rehabilitate selected former breeding wetlands in Australia (Garnett et al. 2011). In New Zealand, determine factors that may be limiting populations (C. O'Donnell in litt. 1999). In New Caledonia, obtain legal protection of representative, low altitude habitats (N. Barré in litt. 1999). Protect remaining sites against drainage or salinisation.
Ekstrom, J. M. M.; Jones, J. P. G.; Willis, J.; Isherwood, I. 2000. The humid forests of New Caledonia: biological research and conservation recommendations for the vertebrate fauna of Grande Terre. CSB Conservation Publications, Cambridge, U.K.
Garnett, S. 1992. Threatened and extinct birds of Australia. Royal Australasian Ornithologists' Union and Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service, Moonee Ponds, Australia.
Garnett, S. T.; Crowley, G. M. 2000. The action plan for Australian birds 2000. Environment Australia, Canberra.
Garnett, S. T.; Szabo, J. K.; Dutson, G. 2011. The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2010. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood.
Heather, B. D.; Robertson, H. A. 1997. The field guide to the birds of New Zealand. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.
IUCN. 2012. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (ver. 2012.1). Available at: http://www.iucnredlist.org. (Accessed: 19 June 2012).
Marchant, S.; Higgins, P. J. 1990. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic birds, 1: ratites to ducks. Oxford University Press, Melbourne.
ODonnell, C. F. J. 2011. Breeding of the Australasian Bittern (Botaurus poiciloptilus) in New Zealand. Emu 111: 197-201.
Pickering, R.; Gole, C. 2008. Swan coastal plain Australasian Bittern surveys 2007-2008.
Smith, P. J., Smith, J. E., Pressey, R. L., and Whish, G. L. 1995. Birds of particular conservation concern in the Western Division of New South Wales: distribution, habitats and threats. Occasional Paper 20. New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service, Sydney.
Further web sources of information
Australian Govt - Action Plan for Australian Birds 2000 - Recovery Outline
Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Bird, J., Butchart, S., Dutson, G., Garnett, S., Harding, M., Mahood, S., Pilgrim, J., Taylor, J., Allinson, T & Symes, A.
Barré, N., Bell, B., Blyth, J., Burbidge, A., Christidis, L., Ford, H., Garnett, S., Herman, K., Holmes, T., Jaensch, R., Loyn, R., Miskelly, C., O'Connor, J., O'Donnell, C., Sherley, G., Tzaros, C., Wakefield, B. & Watson, D.
BirdLife International (2015) Species factsheet: Botaurus poiciloptilus. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 18/04/2015. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2015) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 18/04/2015.
This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.
To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife
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Additional resources for this species
|Current IUCN Red List category||Endangered|
|Species name author||(Wagler, 1827)|
|Population size||1000-2499 mature individuals|
|Distribution size (breeding/resident)||1,430,000 km2|
|Links to further information|
|- Additional Information on this species|