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Can You Pet a Bittern

  • Pet Care

What Is a Bittern?

A bittern is a small, secretive and rarely seen carnivorous bird that belongs to the heron family. Bitterns can be found in wetlands, marshes and fens across Europe, Asia and parts of Africa. These birds forage for food in shallow waters, and are impressive in their ability to quickly move through thick reeds and vegetation.

Bitterns are medium-sized birds and can reach a length of 60 to 90 cm from beak to tail. Male bitterns have prominent brown feathers, buff and black streaks on their back, and dark chestnut-brown coloring on their chest. Females and juveniles tend to look paler with more streaks covering the body. Notably, both sexes possess bright yellow node-like blotches on their chest and neck, called “nodal crowns”.

Bittern as a pet

Behaviour of Bitterns

Bitterns are solitary birds who will only socialize while breeding. Otherwise they favor to live alone and spend the majority of their day hidden underneath thick vegetation.

Due to their unique aroma glands, bitterns are distinguished by their musky, “fishy” smell. This strong aroma can be sensed when the bird is disturbed during its daily activities.

As natural predators, bitterns are able to defend themselves against larger threats such as foxes, dogs and cats. If threatened, they will puff themselves up, thus appearing more intimidating and harder to capture.

Feeding Habits of Bitterns

Bitterns feed mostly on fish and crustaceans, but can also consume frogs, small mammals, and other prey that can fit into the bill. They feed by stalking the shallow water, and use their long bill to catch and spear prey.

Bitterns and Humans

Bitterns are rarely seen in the wild, but has been spotted during the summer months in areas of the United Kingdom. They tend to be concentrated in wetlands and fen areas of Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.

Bitterns have historically been of cultural significance in different parts of the world, for example, it is mentioned in the translation of the roman epic “Aeneid” by Virgil. However, as a species they have become threatened due to wetland destruction and predation from cats, foxes and other animals.

Can Bitterns Be Petted?

Generally, it is not possible to own and pet a bittern. Wild bitterns are legally protected and it is for conservation reasons that new pets are not available. Additionally, bitterns are too wild birds to be tamed.

Furthermore, it is important to note that wild animals, even ones that can be kept as pets, may not be feasible to capture and keep in captivity. It is better to help protect the bitterns’ populations in their natural habitats and encourage others to do the same.

Despite all the legal implications, and multiple safety hazards, it is possible to encounter bitterns and other wild birds. Those who want to watch bitterns and other wildlife should stick to wildlife reserves and keep their distance, in order not to disturb or endanger them.

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