Living Bird Magazine
American BitternBotaurus lentiginosus
- ORDER: Pelecaniformes
- FAMILY: Ardeidae
You'll need sharp eyes to catch sight of an American Bittern. This streaky, brown and buff heron can materialize among the reeds, and disappear as quickly, especially when striking a concealment pose with neck stretched and bill pointed skyward. These stealthy carnivores stand motionless amid tall marsh vegetation, or patiently stalk fish, frogs, and insects. They are at their most noticeable in spring, when the marshes resound with their odd booming calls that sounds like the gulps of a thirsty giant.More ID Info
Find This Bird
American Bitterns are secretive but fairly numerous. Scanning quiet, reedy marshes from the observation platforms and boardwalks of your local wildlife refuge or wetland park may turn them up. Use binoculars or a spotting scope to pan slowly and carefully along the edge between open water and reeds, and remind your eyes that they need to work overtime to see past the bittern's camouflage. If you're lucky, a patch of dry reeds will suddenly morph into a bittern standing stock still. If you visit during spring and listen out for their unmistakable, weird, pump-er-lunk call, you'll improve your chances considerably.
- Avetoro Lentiginoso (Spanish)
- Butor d'Amérique (French)
- Cool Facts
- American Bitterns are heard more often than seen. Their booming, clacking, gulping calls have earned them some colorful nicknames, including "stake-driver," "thunder-pumper," "water-belcher," and "mire-drum."
- When field scientists want to trap American Bitterns for study, they take advantage of the males' aggressive territoriality. Knowing that the birds will respond to other males' calls from as far as 1,600 feet away, or to the image of another male, the researchers use recorded calls and mirrors to draw the birds in.
- The American Bittern's yellow eyes can focus downward, giving the bird's face a comically startled, cross-eyed appearance. This visual orientation presumably enhances the bird's ability to spot and capture prey. The eyes turn orange during breeding season.
- The oldest recorded American Bittern was over 8 years 4 months old, when it was found in Ontario where it had been banded as an adult 8 years previously.