The American Bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus) is a species of wading bird in the heron family of the Pelican order of bird. It breeds in Canada and northern and central parts of the United States and spends winter in the U.S. Gulf Coast states, all of Florida into the Everglades, the Caribbean islands and parts of Central America.
It is a well-camouflaged, solitary brown bird that unobtrusively inhabits marshes and the coarse vegetation at the edge of lakes and ponds.
In the breeding season, the American Bittern is noticeable by the very loud call of the male. They build their nests just above the water, usually among bulrushes and cattails, where the female incubates the clutch of olive-colored eggs for about four weeks. The young leave the nest after two weeks and are fully fledged at six or seven weeks.
The American bittern feeds mostly on fish but also eats other small vertebrates as well as crustaceans and insects. It is fairly common over its wide range, but its numbers are thought to be decreasing, especially in the south, because of habitat degradation.
Information & Facts:
The American Bittern is a brown and quite large and is similar to the Eurasian Bittern, although a bit smaller, and the plumage is speckled instead of barred. It grows to around 58–85 cm (23–33 in) in length, with a wing-span of 92–115 cm (36–45 in), with a weight of 370–1,072 g (0.816–2.363 lb).
The crown is chestnut brown with the centers of the feathers being black. The side of the neck has a bluish-black elongated patch which is larger in the male than the female. The hind neck is olive, and the mantle and scapulars are dark chestnut-brown, barred and speckled with black, some feathers being edged with buff.
The back, rump, and upper tail-coverts are similar in color but more finely speckled with black and with grey bases to the feathers. The tail feathers are chestnut brown with speckled edges, and the primaries and secondaries are blackish-brown with buff or chestnut tips. The cheeks are brown with a buff superciliary stripe and a similarly colored mustachial stripe.
The chin is creamy-white with a chestnut central stripe, and the feathers of the throat, breast, and upper belly are buff and rust-colored, finely outlined with black, giving a striped effect to the underparts. The eyes are surrounded by yellowish skin, and the iris is pale yellow. The long, robust bill is yellowish-green, the upper mandible being darker than the lower, and the legs and feet are yellowish-green. Juveniles resemble adults, but the sides of their necks are less olive.
The range of the American Bittern includes much of North America. It breeds in southern Canada as far north as British Columbia, the Great Slave Lake and Hudson Bay, and in much of the United States and possibly central Mexico.
It migrates southward in the fall and to the southern United States of the Gulf Coast region, very commonly in the marshy Everglades of Florida, the Caribbean Islands and Mexico. They are also seen in Panama and Costa Rica. It is an aquatic bird and frequents bogs, marshes and the thickly-vegetated verges of shallow-water lakes and ponds, both with fresh and brackish or saline water.
It sometimes feeds out in the open in wet meadows and pastures.
The American Bittern usually keeps itself well-hidden and is difficult to observe. It usually hunts by walking stealthily in shallow water and among the vegetation, stalking its prey, but sometimes it stands still ready to ambush.
If it senses that it has been seen, it will remain motionless, with its bill pointed upward, using its color to blend into the environment. It is mainly nocturnal and is most active at dusk. The male bittern has a loud, booming call and its head is thrown convulsively upward and then forward as it makes the sound – often repeating it up to seven times.
Like other members of the heron family, the American bittern feeds in marshes and shallow ponds, preying mainly on fish but also consuming amphibians, reptiles, small mammals, crustaceans and insects. It is territorial by nature and when threatened will slowly erect long, white, previously-concealed plumes on its shoulders, to form wing-like extensions that nearly meet across its back. It will then stand still in a threatening posture, or stalk the intruder in a crouching position, with its head retracted.
The female will build the nest and the male will guard it. The nest is usually about 15 cm (6 in) above the water surface and consists of a rough platform of dead stalks and rushes, sometimes with a few twigs mixed in, and lined with bits of coarse grass.
Up to about six eggs are laid and are incubated by the female for twenty-nine days. The eggs are bluntly ovoid in shape, olive-buff and unspeckled, averaging 49 by 37 mm (1.93 by 1.46 in) in size. The chicks are fed individually, each in turn pulling down the female’s beak and receiving regurgitated food directly into its beak. They leave the nest at about two weeks and are fully-fledged at six to seven weeks.