Page last updated at 12:04 GMT, Friday, 20 February 2009

Rescued rare bird to be released

Rescued bittern (Pic: RSPB)
The undernourished bird was spotted in Bamber Bridge

A bittern, rescued after it was found walking along a road, has been released into a Lancashire nature reserve, the RSPCA said.

The bittern, one of Britain's rarest birds, was spotted by a member of the public in Bamber Bridge and picked up by an RSPCA animal collection officer.

The bird was uninjured but underweight, and while in care has been fed sprats.

It was released at RSPB Leighton Moss nature reserve in Silverdale near Carnforth on Friday.

Staff at Stapeley Grange Wildlife Centre near Nantwich, looked after the bittern after it was picked up by the RSPCA.

Sonia Hulme, from the RSPCA, said: "This was a very special rescue for me as bitterns are so incredibly rare.

"When I came to collect it I was stunned by how beautiful it was - I have never come close to such a rare species before and to be involved in its rescue and rehabilitation was a dream come true."

Distinctive mating call

Dr Andrew Kelly, manager of Stapeley Grange, said that for species like the bittern, every individual counted.

He said it was not clear if the bittern was one of the breeding birds from Leighton Moss or one of the species' foreign visitors, which come to Britain to overwinter and escape colder weather on the continent.

The bittern, which lives in reedbed habitat, was once widespread across the UK, but stopped nesting in the UK in the 19th Century after drainage of wetlands.

Bitterns recolonised the UK in 1911, when they were found breeding again in the Norfolk Broads, but were pushed towards extinction again in this country in the 1990s.

The species had its best breeding season for 130 years last year, measured by the number of "booming" males, whose distinctive mating call is a low-pitched, far-carrying "boom".

Some 75 booming males were recorded, mostly in the bird's stronghold of East Anglia, but also a handful scattered across other counties including Lancashire, Somerset and Yorkshire.


The RSPCA treat the male Bittern

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