American Bittern
(Botaurus lentiginosus)
Photo credit: Katherine Johnson
Identifying Characteristics:
  • A secretive, medium-sized, streaked brown heron
  • Outer wing appears blackish brown in flight, contrasting with lighter brown of inner wing and body
  • At close range, adults show long black stripe down side of throat
  • Young herons are similar but stockier, with shorter necks and more rounded wings without dark tips; they lack the secretive habits of bitterns
  • Habitat is freshwater and brackish marshes and marshy lakeshores; regular in salt marshes during migration and winter.
  • Nesting is 2-6 buff or olive-buff eggs on a platform of reeds
  • Does not nest in colonies

Special Adaptations:
  • These birds have long bills for catching prey. This assists them in catching fish in the water because it makes it easier to catch them in one attempt.
  • Their toes are unwebbed, meaning that they can grip into the sediment or vegetation better while they wade in the water.
  • When approached, it prefers to freeze and trust its concealing coloration rather than flush like other herons. This form of camouflage is advantageous when it comes to predators, especially predators who cannot distinguish the bird from its surroundings.
  • It will often stretch its neck up, point its bill skyward, and sway slowly from side to side, as if imitating waving reeds. This is also to provide camouflage against predators.

National Audubon Society. Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region. Chanticleer Press, Inc. (1996)

Katherine Johnson