Australasian Bittern

Australasian Bittern
Image: Public domain
Community type

Reed swamp

Habitat type

Tidal wetlands and macrophytes beds

This bird is more often seen than heard. With its distinctive booming voice it was believed by early Europeans in Tasmania to be a yeti amongst the wetlands vegetation it favours!

It is a large bird, 65–75cm, and usually lives in freshwater wetlands, occasionally moving into estuarine environments. It prefers heavy vegetation, which it uses for both nesting and hunting. It forages in shallow water or stands on platforms of bent-over reeds. Hunting methods include stand and wait; slow stalk; active pursuit or leg and wing movement to confuse or attract prey. Diet includes frogs, eels, birds, mammals, yabbies, snails, spiders and insects. Adults stand almost 1 metre high, with head and body about 75cm. Australasian bitterns have a large wingspan of just over 1 metre, and in flight they have a very heavy appearance, with legs trailing behind. If startled it will either take off or stand still, with head lifted, to try and blend in with its surroundings.

Declining nationally and internationally,  the Australasian bittern is now listed as Endangered under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

If you are lucky, you might see (or hear) bitterns in the the Upper Derwent estuary wetlands. It is important that we keep our distance to avoid disturbing them, and also retain native wetland vegetation to provide roosting and breeding habitat.

Much of the text within the species area of our website was written by Veronica Thorpe, as part of the Derwent River Wildlife Guide (2000).

The DEP has developed a variety of classroom and outdoor activities focused around the key estuary habitats of tidal wetlands, salt marshes and rocky reefs. These include classroom materials, online resources, interpretive walks, games and sensory experiences.