(2240) Botaurus stellaris stellaris.
Ardea stellaris Linn., Syst. Nat., 10th ei., i, p. 149 (1758) (Sweden), Botaurus stellaris. Blanf. & Oates, iv, p. 405.
Vernacular names. Nir-goung, Baz (Hind.).
Description. A short line from the bill to the eye buff; rest of crown and nape black, the longest feathers of the crest edged with buff at the tips and some of the side feathers edged the same : back and interscapulars black with broad ochre-buff edges, encroaching on to the black as bars at the base; lower back, rump and tail pale ochreous with numerous bars and mottlings of black: wing-coverts buff, mottled and barred with much black and a little rufous ; primaries barred with rufous, turning to pink on the inner webs, and black; innermost secondaries like the scapulars but with more definite bars; sides of head ochre, faintly irrorated with black; a blackish line from the gape below the cheeks ; chin and throat white, with a well-marked buff central line streaked with black and continued down to the breast; fore-neck to vent pale yellowish-buff, with broken streaks of brown and darker buff: on the sides of the breast the streaks are replaced by bars.
Colours of soft parts. Iris yellow or whitey-yellow; bill greenish-yellow, culmen darker, almost black at the tip ; legs and feet dull pale greenish, more yellow at joints and on sole; "lores and round eye green to livid blue" (Witherby).
Measurements.: wing 320 to 350 mm.; tail 95 to 116 mm.; tarsus 90 to 100 mm.; culmen 60 to 75 mm.; wing 300 to 350 mm,; culmen 65 to 75 mm, (Witherby).
Nestling in down. Upper parts pale chestnut to darker dull reddish-brown; below paler reddish-buff, the chin and throat albescent.
Distribution. Throughout the temperate areas of Europe and Asia from Great Britain to Japan. In India it occurs in small numbers in Winter throughout the North and straggles South to the Deccan, Bombay, Kamptee, Cuttack (Annandale) and, it is said, Bangalore. In Burma it wanders occasionally as far South as Pegu.
Nidification. The Bittern does not breed within Indian limits. In temperate Europe it breeds during May, rarely at the end of April or early in June. The nest is a rough untidy platform placed on broken-down reeds and rushes and composed of bits of these materials, often with the broad blades as a scanty lining. It is built low down within a few inches of the water and the site selected is normally one in a large extent of reed-bed and is therefore difficult to locate. The eggs number four to six and are a light uniform olive-brown, rarely with a few specks and spots of darker brown at the larger end. Eighty eggs (66 Jourdain) average 52.5 x 38.3 mm.: maxima 58.2 x 37.1 and 54.0 x 41.0 mm.; minima 47.5 x 35.7 and 48.4 x 33.3 mm.
Habits. The Bittern is a nocturnal bird, frequenting dense beds of rushes and reeds in swamps, showing itself very little by day unless disturbed by intruders, when it rises close by one and flaps noiselessly away for a couple of hundred yards before again pitching. Its ordinary call is a hoarse, low croak but during the breeding-season it utters a deep booming note which can be heard at a great distance. When calling thus its throat and neck are much distended, the feathers puffed out and loose, whilst the head is held erect. Young birds when disturbed either squat low among the reeds or stand erect with neck and head stretched out parallel to the reeds and are difficult to distinguish from them. They feed on fish, frogs and all kinds of small reptiles, do not disdain the young of other birds which nest in swamps, and will devour any kind of insects, worm or grub.