A booming great start to the breeding season

We're so excited that for the first time since 1999, we've got three booming male bitterns here at Leighton Moss!

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 not exactly 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". 

One of the males here in particular has a strong voice. This is the first year for many years, when we've had such a good quality boomer. His boom carried over a distance of around 2.5km and was heard by our Site Manager Jarrod in Silverdale! This bodes well for a successful breeding season.

After an absence of breeding here for almost a decade, these elusive birds nested 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, the three booming males are the highest record in 20 years.

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.

  
Bittern in flight by John Bridges (rspb-images.com)

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 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 UK 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

As we are still closed, visiting the Leighton Moss bitterns is sadly not possible at this time. However, you can listen to a recent recording here, made by our Site Manager Jarrod, before lockdown. Not only can you hear the brilliant booming bitterns, but a whole host of wonderful wildlife in the reedbed too. Hopefully it will bring you a little piece of Leighton during this strange time.

You might also like to tune into the upcoming BBC Radio 4 Farming Today piece, which will be going out this Friday 8 May. Reporter and presenter Caz Graham came along to Leighton Moss before lockdown, and ventured into the reedbed with Jarrod to record our booming bitterns and chat about the reedbed restoration work for the programme. If you live locally, you may have also seen Caz's recent article about her adventure here, in Cumbria Life magazine.

  
Our Site Manager Jarrod Sneyd and Radio Reporter and Presenter Caz Graham, out very early in the morning to record booming bitterns. 


You can of course also keep up with the latest reserve news by following us on Twitter and Facebook. And finally, for the possibility of hearing a live bittern, have a listen to the live mic in the reedbed at our pal's RSPB Titchwell Marsh in Norfolk. 

  
Sneaking out to the edge. Bittern at Leighton Moss by Mike Malpass.