A booming great start to the breeding season at RSPB Leighton Moss in Silverdale

For the first time since 1999, there are at least three booming males at RSPB Leighton Moss in Silverdale.

By Michelle Blade
Thursday, 14th May 2020, 12:30 pm
Bittern in the reedbed at Leighton Moss nature reserve at Silverdale. Picture: rspb-images.com.
Bittern in the reedbed at Leighton Moss nature reserve at Silverdale. Picture: rspb-images.com.

Bittern populations are monitored by recording the number of ‘booming’ males, so called for their rather unusual birdsong.

The bittern is Britain’s loudest bird, but the noise it makes is far from a typical bird song. Indeed, for such a shy and elusive bird, their call is far from discrete.

Their ‘booming’ has been described as a deep sound like blowing over the top of a glass bottle, or less poetically, like a giant gulping.

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Jarrod Sneyd, site manager at Leighton Moss said: “This is the first year for many years, when there has been such a good quality boomer, whose boom carried over a distance of around 2.5km. This bodes well for a successful breeding season!”

After an absence of breeding for almost a decade, the elusive birds nested at Leighton Moss in 2018 as a result of a four-year programme to rejuvenate the wetlands. Since 2018, the birds have continued to thrive, and this year, three booming males have been reported – the highest record in 20 years.

Jarrod added: “Before 2018, we had one booming male, but he would fail to work up to a full boom or stop early in the season. In 2018 we had our first breeding success, and now, merely two years later, to have three high quality booming males is amazing news. It’s evidence that the hard work and dedication of our staff and volunteers to maintain the reedbed, and create a bittern-friendly habitat, has truly paid off.”

As an unusual cousin of the more familiar grey heron, bitterns rely on reedbeds to live in - a now rare habitat in the UK, with Leighton Moss being the largest one in North West England.

Reedbed is very important to conserve in the UK as a lot of it has been lost through drainage for agriculture and development.

In the late 1990s, bitterns were almost wiped out in this country, due to the loss of the reedbed habitat on which they depend.

At that time Leighton Moss was one of only a few sites in the country where bitterns were clinging on.

Since then, the RSPB and other nature conservation organisations have been working hard to save the species and it has been successful, with 198 booming males recorded in the UK in 2019.

Alongside government advice on social distancing, visiting the Leighton bitterns is not possible, at this time.

However, bittern-fans can and stay up to date with the Leighton bitterns on social media @RSPBLeightonM or tune it to RSPB Titchwell Marsh’s live mic, for the chance to hear the characteristic ‘boom.’

RSPB Titchwell Marsh have a live mic positioned in reedbed habitat, and bitterns have been heard.

Listen to the mic here: http://locus.creacast.com:9001/rspb_titchwell_marsh.ogg