© Observation of a Breeding Cinnamon Bittern

“Most of my Cinnamon Bittern (Ixobrychus cinnamomeus) sightings were over paddy fields. Being extremely skittish water birds, their presence were seen mainly when accidentally flushed out. They then took to dashy low, straight flight paths only to land another 100-200 metres further away.

“At most by then, one could only appreciate a head peeping out between those paddy stalks via the Fieldscope. Otherwise, the image by naked eye would be just…. but a tiny dot.

“While their movements have been poorly understood, there were times they were totally absent from sight.
Behavior of males changed dramatically during the breeding season as I soon observed one late August morning.

“A breeding male of red facial skin and orangey bill was unusually seen perched open on a wire cable alongside paddy field. Noted to be both an obscured, shy resident and passage migrant, he turned exhibitionist!

“Soon, he made his presence felt by an advertising fly pass to hopefully catch the attention of a female on the other side of the field. To woo further, he flew to a centre stage perch of another wire cable to begin his courtship calls and macho stunt performance.

“Let’s check him out…….

“In semi-crouched, classical posture and with bill tilted upwards, the male bellowed continuously with his throat (above left). The hormone raging male subsequently paused and turned his head (above right).


“Of course…he was checking out to see if his courtship calls caught the attention of the female he was vying. The breeding calls sounded a continuous ‘kok-kok-kok-kok-kok.’ Unfortunately, I was too far away to have my camera picked up the calls.

“The nearest substitute of a normal Cinnamon Bittern’s call could be heard at AVOCET LINK – specimen No: AV#9148 & AV#9149 by Recordist Dr Pamela C. Rasmussen.

“This is when a good quality tape recorder justifies its primary usage – to record bird calls of unknown species, rarities, bird calls with limited data such as in this situation for knowledge and science.

“The circus performance began with the breeding male preening vigorously- like getting ready for a full dress rehearsal (above left).

“Wearing a cinnamon-rufous plumage with distinctive central brown-streaked line from throat to upper chest and with red painted face, the courting male then performed the tight wire walk with stealth (above right).

“Doesn’t he look cool…..

“At the same time, the suitor stole a side glance in search of a bravado approval from his potential mate (above left).

“A gallery of low tree bushes lined the boundary edge of the opposite paddy field. Two other male suitors lay in waiting over a supposedly female-the latter decided to crank her head, perhaps raised a curious half eyelid to steal a prospecting look at the direction where the breeding calls and performance came from (below left).

“A juvenile would look quite similar to a female if not of the reddish, bare facial skin which this breeding female possesses in this image.

“Competition was kind of stiff and this breeding male Cinnamon Bittern rejected look on his face don’t show he was in luck that day (above right).

“I returned the next day to chance a follow up. The flying chase was on and for more than two hours, a female was observed to being chased all over paddy fields by a persistent, breeding male.

“What a flying game of exhibiting the many splendors of love by Trivial Pursuit!”

Avian Writer Daisy O’Neill
Optics used: Fieldscope ED82+30x+Camera P3. Binoculars: 8×32
Copyright article and Images copy:
Courtesy of Daisy O’Neill Birding Conservation Fund

Acknowledgement and thanks:
Dr. Pamela C. Rasmussen for permission to reference her recordings at AVOCET.

4 Responses

  1. Siegfried ERWIN


    This is not precisely related to your website, as it concerns a Bittern observation in Europe, but I was lucky enough to spot and take some pics of a couple of Eurasian bittern during what I interpreted as a form of courtship/preliminaries. And sorry, english is not my first language!

    My observation happened in the first days of January 2013, near Geneva. No breeding has been recorded for this species in this spot, that I know of, and the reeds area is very small (some hundreds/thousands sq. meters). But Bittern have been observed there in different seasons. That’s also probably a bit early for breeding anyway, but I can’t find much information about Bittern breeding habits. So I take the liberty of posting this here, in case someone has more precisions about this behavior!

    One bird was chasing the other: the “male” with puffy feathers on neck and head, grey and blackish crown and hinderneck areas appearing more extended than on the (supposed) female, that was walking 2 meters ahead, with her neck stretched, bill pointing skyward. After a short distance, not a run, but a walk with some urge, the “female” takes off, the “male” still following her, for a brief and low flight, both landing in the same place, but now hidden by the reeds. 5 to 20 minutes later, same behavior, the couple walks out of the reeds, same postures, and shortly after the chased bird takes off. It happened 3-4 times in slightly less than 1 hour. After 1-2 hour with nothing in sight, I had to go.

    See some pics here: http://www.aerien.ch/artihttp://www.aerien.ch/articles/36/Parade_nuptiale_du_Butor_etoile.php

    For what I know, no calls have been recorded in relation with this, and I didn’t hear any sound during my observation, but I was probably a bit too far to hear anything else than loud noises, anyway.

    To me it looked like a male chasing a female, but is it the usual period for that? That would give a quite long gestation (not incubation) time before laying eggs (in the springtime I presume)? For me a territorial fight would have been more violent, not one bird walking behind the other, and why would both birds stay in the reeds together without fighting?

    I must say that I have also made a distinct observation before this one, 20-30km away, some days before, probably not the same birds: I spotted 2 males facing each other, this time both with darker, buffy neck and head, heads a bit up, and after some seconds (before I could take any picture), the loser flew away, higher than in the supposed courtship, shortly chased by the winner, the latter letting the former go when it was far enough.)

    If you have more information about this, please let me know.

    Thanks, and best wishes!

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