Page last updated at 08:07 GMT, Monday, 7 September 2009 09:07 UK

Shy bittern makes home on estate

Bittern, picture courtesy of RSPB images
In 1997 a survey revealed only 11 bitterns across the UK

The bittern, one of Britain's rarest birds, is booming again in the most unlikely places after research revealed record numbers across the country.

Studies have found 82 male bitterns calling or "booming" this spring from wetland strongholds in East Anglia, Kent, Sussex, Somerset and Lancashire.

But the shy bird has also been heard on housing estates and in central London.

The bittern was declared extinct in the UK in the 1880s but has been brought back by conservation programmes.

The bird, regarded as an icon of British ornithology, has fought back to record their best figures for 120 years.

Despite their extremely shy ways there are recent records of wintering birds turning up on a housing estate in Milton Keynes and at Barnes, close to central London.

A booming male has been recorded at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, in East Sussex, the first in the county for at least 100 years.

The other three booming males were recorded in Kent, one more than last year.

Population bounce back

They usually live in the heart of dense reedbeds and the males' highly evocative booming call to attract a mate and establish territories is often the only evidence of their presence.

The bird suffered a dip in the 1990s but managed to fightback from the brink, confined to Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Lancashire, Somerset and Suffolk.

Dr Mark Avery, the RSPB's conservation director, said: "When we feared the bittern would hit the buffers again the conservation community rallied to its cause by managing or recreating extensive tracts of habitat.

"We didn't believe it at the time that we'd see the bittern population bounce back to record levels in just 12 years."

Researchers recorded 82 male booming bitterns, with the Suffolk coast is holding the highest number of birds followed by the Norfolk Broads and The Fens.

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