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American Bittern Botaurus lentiginosus


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American Bittern
credit: Walter Siegmund/CCSA

© Lang Elliot/ (audio)

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Family: Ardeidae, Herons, Egrets, Bitterns view all from this family

Description ADULT Has beautifully patterned brown plumage. Neck and breast have chestnut stripes on paler background and feathers on back and upper wing are marbled and finely marked. Note the white throat and supercilium, and black malar stripe. Daggerlike bill is yellow and legs are greenish. JUVENILE Similar to adult, but facial markings are less striking.

Dimensions Length: 23-34" (58-86 cm)

Habitat Widespread across Canada and northern U.S. in spring and summer, but seldom common. Associated with well-vegetated freshwater marshes and present in breeding range mainly Apr-Sep. Moves south and west in winter and then found mostly in coastal wetlands with large stands of cattail.

Observation Tips Presence often detected by "song" in spring. Persistent observation may be rewarded by a view of a flying bird.

Range Eastern Canada, Western Canada, Alaska, New England, Northwest, Southeast, Florida, Plains, Southwest, Rocky Mountains, California, Texas, Great Lakes, Mid-Atlantic

Voice Territorial birds utter a far-carrying, booming BOonk-aLOonk.

Discussion Bulky and distinctive wetland bird. Despite its large size, the cryptic plumage (that blends in particularly well with dead cattail stems) makes it very hard to spot. Its behavior enhances the effect: moves at a slow, stealthy pace and alarmed birds "skypoint," swaying with same motion as surrounding wetland vegetation. Flies with deep, powerful wingbeats, head and neck held hunched; dark flight feathers contrast with otherwise brown plumage. Feeds on amphibians, fish, and aquatic invertebrates, and often hunts at dawn and dusk. Sexes are similar.