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Ixobrychus sturmii (Dwarf bittern) 

Dwergrietreier [Afrikaans]; Hakaruu (generic term for short-necked herons and bitterns) [Kwangali]; Afrikaans woudaapje [Dutch]; Blongios de sturm [French]; Sturms zwergrohrdommel [German]; Garçote-anão [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 sturmii (Dwarf bittern) Ixobrychus sturmii (Dwarf bittern)

Dwarf bittern. [photo Johann Grobbelaar ©]

Dwarf bittern. [photo Francois Dreyer ©

Distribution and habitat

Occurs across sub-Saharan Africa; in southern Africa, it is generally uncommon in northern Namibia, northern and south-eastern Botswana, Zimbabwe, central and southern Mozambique and north-eastern South Africa. It generally prefers seasonally flooded plains with scattered trees and bushes, marshes, temporary pans, flooded grassland and occasionally mangroves.

Distribution of Dwarf 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

Intra-African breeding migrant, arriving in southern Africa in the period from October-December to breed. It usually stays until March or April, at which point it heads north to its non-breeding grounds in equatorial Africa.


It mainly eats fish, frogs and aquatic insects, doing most of its foraging at dusk and at night, wading through shallow water in search of small animals. It also perches on a tuft of grass, stabbing prey that passes by. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

  • Vertebrates
    • fish
    • frogs
  • Invertebrates
    • water-bugs
    • crabs and other crustaceans
    • spiders


  • Monogamous and usually a solitary nester, although nests may be closed closely spaced in prime habitat, such as Nylsvley, Limpopo Province.
  • The nest (see image below) is built opportunistically by both sexes in 1-2 days, consisting of a flimsy platform of twigs and coarse grass stems, typically placed in a thorny bush or tree flooded by water.
Dwarf bittern at its nest with chicks, Nylsvley area, South Africa. [photo Warwick Tarboton ©]  
  • Egg-laying season is from November-April, peaking from January-February.
  • It lays 2-5 eggs, which are incubated by both sexes for about 18-26 days.
  • The chicks are fed by both parents, first exploring the area around the nest after a week, leaving the nest permanently at about 12-13 days old.


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.