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Ixobrychus minutus (Little bittern) 

Kleinrietreier [Afrikaans]; Woudapie [Afrikaans]; Ihashe [Xhosa]; Mwene-mwene hakaruu [Kwangali]; Khoitinyane [South Sotho]; Woudaapje [Dutch]; Blongios nain [French]; Zwergrohrdommel [German]; Garçote-comum [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Ciconiiformes > Family: Ardeidae

Ixobrychus minutus (Little bittern)  Ixobrychus minutus (Little bittern) 
Ixobrychus minutus (Little bittern) 

Little bittern, Caprivi Strip, Namibia. [photo Johann Grobbelaar ©]

Top right: Little bittern in flight. [photo Sion Stanton ©]

Bottom right: Little bittern. [photo Callie de Wet ©]

Distribution and habitat

It has two subspecies: one resident in Africa and the other breeding from Europe to China and the Mediterranean, heading south in the non-breeding season to India and sub-Saharan Africa. Here it is generally uncommon in Namibia, northern and south-eastern Botswana, Zimbabwe, central and southern Mozambique and isolated patches of South Africa. It generally prefers Bulrushes (Typha capensis) and reeds (Phragmites) in water, such as in vleis or along the edge of wooded watercourses or sewage ponds.

Distribution of Little bittern in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project (© Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Movements and migrations

Movement patterns vary greatly between the two different subspecies: L. m. payesii is largely resident while L. m. minutus is a palearctic breeding migrant, present in southern Africa in the period from December-April.


Its diet is not well known, but is thought to mainly consist of frogs, lizards, fish and invertebrates, doing most of its foraging by creeping through cover in search of prey. It catches animals by rapidly thrusting its bill forward, spearing the prey while slightly extending its wings. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

  • Vertebrates
    • fish
      • Cyprinus carpio (Carp)
      • Tilapia sparrmanii (Banded tilapia)
    • frogs
    • lizards
  • Invertebrates


  • Monogamous, solitary or semi-colonial nester, as nests may spaced close together in prime habitat. The first male to establish a territory seems to overt dominance over other pairs in the area, preventing other females from nesting until his female has finished her clutch.
  • The nest is built solely by the male, who also selects the site, consisting of a platform of reed stems lined with green grass or other fine plant material. It is typically placed in Bulrushes (Typha capensis) or dense reeds (Phragmites), usually at the edge of a clearing or adjacent to an open channel of water.

Little bitterns at their nest, Sericea farm, South Africa. [photo Warwick Tarboton ©]

  • Egg-laying season is from September-June.
  • It lays 2-5 eggs, which are incubated by both sexes for about 18-20 days.
  • The chicks are brooded for the first 8-10 days of their lives, at which point they start to clamber around in the reedbed near the nest, leaving completely at about 14-16 days old, and flying strongly at 27 days old. They are fed by both sexes by regurgitation, on a diet of mainly small fish and frogs.


Not threatened.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.