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The Bittern is a marshland bird that is mainly found in wetlands across the temperate and subtropical regions of the world. It is an elusive bird, camouflaged in the wetlands in which it hides, a stout-bodied heron resembling the Great Blue Heron. These birds generally remain still and utilize their cryptic plumage to blend into the background, waiting safely until they can strike with lightning speed to hunt down their prey.

Identifying a Bittern

Bitterns are typically leggy, medium-sized herons that range between 20 and 32 inches in length. Adults usually have brown upperparts with white streaks, grey underparts, and a hazy yellow face and neck. These birds have short wings, short necks, and short bills, and they usually have a rather reclusive personality. They can also be identified by their loud booming call, which they use to attract mates and to establish their territory.

Bittern Habitat

Bitterns live in wetlands, bogs, marshes, swamps, wet grasslands, flooded meadows, shallow lakes, and shallow rivers. These birds however, prefer freshwater wetlands with a good mix of grasses, sedges, and other vegetation that provide good cover from predators such as cats, raccoons, and foxes. They also prefer areas with a lot of fish, amphibians, and insects for food. In some areas, bitterns migrate for the winter to more southern regions, such as Mexico and the Southwestern United States, but some subspecies are permanent residents.

Dietary Habits of Bitterns

Bitterns are voracious eaters, consuming mainly small fish, amphibians, crustaceans, insects, and occasionally small mammals. They feed mainly by standing in shallow water, waiting for prey to come within range. While they might take a few steps to clear the water while hunting, they often stand motionless and watch with their keen eyes until an animal has come within range. Bitterns may also hunt by standing near a patch of tall vegetation and waiting for birds.

Bittern two

Breeding Habits and Mating Rituals of Bitterns

Bitterns typically mate for life, and adults often build a nest out of grass and other vegetation that is lined with feathers or other soft materials. Bitterns typically nest in wet or dry locations, often in amongst tall vegetation or on floating mats of vegetation.

Mating typically starts in late February in the Northern Hemisphere and early November in the Southern Hemisphere. A pair will form an elaborate mating display to attract a mate. In this display, the male and female will perform a duet of calls, with the male’s call being the higher-pitched of the two. This serves to attract a mate, and if successful, the two will form a bond and build a nest together.

Bittern Conservation Status

Bitterns are globally threatened species, classified as Near Threatened by the IUCN Red List. This means that their numbers are decreasing, due to their wetland habitats being destroyed or degraded by human activity. Some subspecies, such as the American Bittern, are listed as Endangered by the IUCN due to the destruction of the wetland habitats in which they rely on for survival.

Bitterns are protected by law in some countries in which they are found, including the USA and Europe. Their numbers are monitored and research is done to understand their complex needs, in order to protect and preserve this species.


Bitterns are fascinating creatures, well-camouflaged in their wetland habitats, but easily recognized through their unique call. Their habitats are fragile and are being threatened by human activity, so measures are being taken to understand how to protect and preserve these wetland birds. Bitterns paint a picture of beauty and grace as they search for food in the water, and they make an integral part of a balanced wetland ecosystem. With continued conservation initiatives, we can help ensure that future generations of humans and bitterns alike can continue to enjoy these majestic birds.

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