Where are our bitterns?

Northland Regional Council is working to protect one of Te Taitokerau’s most endangered birds, the Australasian bittern/matuku-hūrepo (Botaurus poiciloptilus), and we need your help!

How do I recognise a bittern?

The Australasian bittern is a large heron with brown and beige mottled plumage. This secretive bird once congregated in large flocks, but now they are seldom seen. Bitterns are a nationally critically threatened species with an estimated 250-1,000 mature individuals remaining.

Bitterns are wetland birds that eat eels, frogs, fish and insects. They are about 70cm in height and have a distinctive ‘freeze’ stance, with their bill pointing to the sky, when disturbed. Their plumage helps them camouflage well in wetlands.

Why is the bittern in trouble?

New Zealand’s bittern populations have been decimated by wetland drainage and habitat clearance, which also results in less food availability and birds starving over winter.

Predators such as rats, stoats and cats eat their eggs, and sometimes eat females sitting on the nest. Adult bitterns can also be killed crossing roads.

A road sign with a picture of a bittern saying slow for bittern.

We’re installing new signage to encourage drivers to look out for bitterns crossing the road.

How can I help?

You can help bitterns by carrying out predator control around wetlands on your property, keeping dogs away, leaving nesting birds alone, and protecting their wetland habitat. You can find out how to look after wetlands on our website.

It's also important to look out for bitterns crossing the road when you’re driving, especially near wetlands or drains. NRC is installing new signage in priority areas to raise driver awareness of bitterns – please keep an eye out and slow down when you see our signs.

Tell us if you see a bittern

If you see a bittern, submit your sighting using our bittern encounter form to help us build a picture of where these birds are distributed across Northland. We’ve had 80 records since Dec 2022.

Bittern walking through a wetland.

Australasian bittern/matuku-hūrepo