Once 'bittern' twice shy
Wednesday 14 April 2004
An exceptionally special spring chick has hatched at London Zoo and can now be seen in our bird house. Our sun-bittern chick fledged the nest just last week and is already showing off its spectacular plumage
This heron like bird is approximately 42 cm tall with a long neck and slender bill. It has lovely mottled markings on its back, a striped head and chestnut sides to the throat.
But what is most striking are the markings resembling predators eyes on the wings which it exposes during courtship or when frightened. When provoked, it will go through a series of fantastic performances, spreading its broad wings and tail so as to display the two dark circles. Bitterns are notoriously reclusive so we were lucky to be able to get such close shots of the chick at such a young age!
In the wild, it frequents the humid forests of central and northern South America, always residing near water on the marshy banks of rivers, streams and ponds. The sun bittern lurks along tropical rivers in order to seek out insect and fish prey.
Sun bittern bird and chick
A clutch of two to four pink mottled eggs is laid in a large nest built of twigs, leaves and mud usually in the branches of a tree. After an incubation period of 27 days the chicks hatch out. This is the fourth time our sun bitterns have laid eggs, but as the pair are young, inexperienced birds this is the first time they have been successful in rearing their chick.
Although not kept here for many years, London Zoo was the world's first zoo to breed this species in captivity in 1865.
As part of the ongoing conservation efforts for this species, the sunbitterns at London are part of the European breeding programme.