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American Bittern

Botaurus lentiginosus ORDER: PELECANIFORMES FAMILY: ARDEIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

A stocky and well-camouflaged heron of dense reed beds, the American Bittern is difficult to see. Its far-carrying booming call is distinctive, but the bittern itself likes to keep under cover.

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At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
23.6–33.5 in
60–85 cm
Wingspan
36.2 in
92 cm
Weight
13.1–17.6 oz
370–500 g
Other Names
  • Butor d'Amérique (French)
  • Torcomón, Avetoro lentiginoso (Spanish)

Habitat


Marsh

American Bitterns breed in freshwater marshes with tall vegetation. You can find them in wetlands of many sizes and types, typically less densely vegetated and shallower than wetlands used by the Least Bittern. In winter they move to areas where water bodies don't freeze, especially near the coast, where they may occasionally use brackish marshes. Managed wetlands such as wildlife refuges seem to be important for wintering American Bitterns.

Food


Fish

American Bitterns prey upon insect, fish, crustaceans, amphibians, reptiles, and small mammals. Preferred insects include dragonflies, water striders, water beetles, and grasshoppers; frequently consumed fish are eels, catfish, pickerel, sunfish, suckers, perch, killifish, and sticklebacks.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
1–5 eggs
Egg Length
1.5 in
3.7 cm
Incubation Period
24–28 days
Nestling Period
7–14 days
Egg Description
Buffy brown to olive without markings.
Condition at Hatching
Helpless; yellow-green body with pinkish-tan bill tipped in black.
Nest Description

The nest of the American Bittern is made of a foundation of emergent vegetation like reeds, sedges, or cattails. It typically sits 3-8 inches above the water. The nest is lined with grasses and has an outside diameter of 10-16 inches.

Nest Placement

Ground

Bitterns build nests in an area of thick vegetation emerging from shallow water, such as cattails, bulrushes, and sedges. Nests on land are not as common but can occur in grasslands in locations with dense, tall herbaceous plants.

Behavior


Stalking

American Bitterns are almost always solitary and can be difficult to see. They often hide among wetland vegetation, walking slowly as they forage. American Bitterns typically hunt in low light, catching food with their bill and killing prey with biting or shaking movements. Flight is stiff and fairly clumsy with rapid wingbeats. Territorial males display at each other by approaching while hunkered down, head lowered to the level of its back, neck drawn in, and revealing white plumes at the shoulders.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Credits

  • Gibbs, J. P. , S. Melvin, and F. A. Reid. 1992. American Bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus). In The Birds of North America, No. 18 (A. Poole, P. Stettenheim, and F. Gill, Eds.). Philadelphia: The Academy of Natural Sciences; Washington, DC: The American Ornithologists¿ Union.

Range Map Help

American Bittern Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings