Yellow Bittern Bird taxidermy by W.J Connolly
‘A bhunnán bhuí, is é mo léan do luí, is do chnámha sínte tar éis do ghrinn.’
Cathal Buí Mac Giolla Ghunna’s ‘yellow bittern’ fell foul of climate change. The Little Ice Age began in Europe in the 16th Century and lasted until 1850; the winters of Cathal’s time (1680 to 1756) were severe. Marsh birds, their reed-bed haunts frozen solid, starved to death in the depths of winter and the harvesting of reeds, to thatch the roofs of a burgeoning pre-Famine population, reduced the great beds in which bitterns nested. Cathal Buí’s lament was prophetic; the bunnán’s days were numbered. It bred here for the last time in 1840.
Bitterns fared no better in Britain; they disappeared there also. Then, in 1911, a pair nested in Norfolk. Numbers increased over the next few decades but declined again. By the 1970s, however, they had bred in 11 English counties. Reed-beds were protected and wetland habitats managed. A paper, published in British Birds, claimed that the number of ‘booming’ males rose from 11 in 1997 to 104 in 2011. The bittern is prospering on the other side of the Irish Sea. Could it do so here? Irish examiner 2016