AMERICAN BITTERN

AMERICAN BITTERN (Botaurus lentiginosus)

The American bittern is a very well camouflaged bird and hard to see if it doesn’t move. However it is easy to locate one from the calls males make to mark territory and attract mates. It is a deep three-syllable sound made from air stored in the oesophagus.

The bird’s name (both English and Latin) makes reference to the ‘bull-like’ call of the breeding male. The Latin word ‘lentiginosus’ relates to the ‘freckled’ aspect of the bird’s plumage.

The American bittern is a heron and as such, hunts for fish in marshland with tall vegetation. It hunts by stalking or waiting for the prey to reach striking distance from its powerful bill. Its diet also includes small reptiles and mammals, and invertebrates. It blends well with the thick vegetation when it adopts its alarmed pose with the bill upright. Then its variegated plumage of brown and beige and white makes it almost invisible. The breast is striped beige and white. The bird is around 80 cm (32 in.) long.

The American bittern breeds on PEI and is fairly common except in winter. It breeding range encompasses most of the Canadian provinces and the upper part of the USA (except Alaska). It winters in the south part of the USA, Mexico and Cuba for the most part.

American bittern - Tower Grove - photo by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren
American bittern – Tower Grove – photo by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren
American Bittern - Souris Line Road area, PEI - May 17, 2014 - Joanne Dunphy
American Bittern – Souris Line Road area, PEI – May 17, 2014 – © Joanne Dunphy
American bittern in flight - photo by Ken Sturm, USFWS
American bittern in flight – photo by Ken Sturm, USFWS