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American Bittern

Introduction to the American Bittern

The American Bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus) is a large species of cryptically-colored heron distributed across much of North America. Widely admired for their majestic courtship displays, these birds are often mistaken for Great Blue Herons due to their similar coloring and behavior. American Bitterns belong to the family of birds known as Ardeidae, which includes species like the Great Blue Heron, the Cattle Egret, and the Black-crowned Night Heron.

Distribution and Habitat

American Bitterns can be found throughout much of the United States and parts of Canada. It is an especially common bird in wetlands and marshes, as well as open grasslands and agricultural areas. They are most common in the Northeastern states and British Columbia, although they breed throughout the northern United States south to the Mexican border.

Identifying the American Bittern

American Bitterns are distinguished by their long, slender necks, grayish-brown feathers, and yellow eyes. They have a unique call, referred to as a “buck-toe-oh-er” that can be heard from quite a distance. Aside from their plain coloring, the most distinguishing feature of the American Bittern is their darkly-colored bill which has a distinctive ‘S’ shape.

Behavior and Habits

American Bitterns are wading birds, meaning that they spend much of their time foraging in shallow water for insects and small fish. They are highly solitary birds and are rarely seen in groups of more than two or three. During the breeding season, however, males perform a courtship display in which they stand motionless in shallow water and wave their necks backward and forward.

American Bittern two

Breeding and Nesting

American Bitterns breed during the latter part of spring and early summer. They construct nests in areas with plentiful vegetation, usually either in marshes or near ponds. The female will lay a clutch of three to five eggs. The eggs are then incubated by both parents. After hatching, both parents care for the young. The chicks typically fledge in three to four weeks.

Migration and Conservation Status

American Bitterns are a partially migratory species, with some individuals wintering in more southern areas and others remaining in their northern range year-round. American Bitterns are currently listed as Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), though their population is slowly declining due to habitat destruction and human activity.


The American Bittern is a remarkable species of North American wetland bird with a wide distribution and impressive courtship displays. Its striking cryptic coloring and long neck are easily recognizable, and its range spans much of the United States and Canada. Though its population is slowly declining, American Bitterns are currently listed as of Least Concern and can still be found in marshes and other wetland habitats.

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