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Species Guide
A photo of a American Bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus)
American Bittern

American Bittern

Botaurus lentiginosus

The American bittern, Botaurus lentiginosus, is a species of wading bird belonging to the heron family. It is a large, chunky, brown bird, with a body length ranging from 58 to 85 cm (23–33 in), a wingspan of 92 to 115 cm (36–45 in), and a weight of 370 to 1,072 g (0.816–2.363 lb). Its plumage is speckled rather than barred, and it is slightly smaller than its Eurasian counterpart, Botaurus stellaris.

Identification Tips

The American bittern's crown is chestnut brown with black feather centers. It has a bluish-black elongated patch on the side of the neck, which is more prominent in males. The mantle and scapulars are dark chestnut-brown, barred and speckled with black, and edged with buff. The back and rump are finely speckled with black and grey. The tail feathers are chestnut with speckled edges. The cheeks are brown with buff stripes above and below the eye, and the chin is creamy-white with a chestnut stripe. The eyes are surrounded by yellowish skin, and the bill is yellowish-green, with the upper mandible darker than the lower.


This bird is often found in marshes and the dense vegetation at the edges of lakes and ponds. It is also known to inhabit wet meadows and pastures.


The American bittern has a Nearctic distribution, breeding in Canada and the northern and central United States. It winters along the U.S. Gulf Coast, in Florida, the Caribbean islands, and parts of Central America.


A master of camouflage, the American bittern is a solitary and elusive bird. It hunts stealthily in shallow waters or stands motionless with its bill pointed upward, blending into the surrounding vegetation. It is mainly nocturnal, with a booming call most often heard at dusk.

Song & Calls

The male's call is a distinctive, loud, and booming sound, described as "oong, kach, oonk," which it repeats several times. This call is produced by a unique mechanism involving the inflation of the esophagus.


The nest is built just above the water among bulrushes and cattails. The female incubates the olive-colored eggs for about four weeks. The young leave the nest after two weeks and are fully fledged by six or seven weeks.

Diet and Feeding

The American bittern's diet consists mostly of fish, but it also consumes other small vertebrates, crustaceans, and insects. It hunts by walking or standing still in ambush.

Conservation status

Although the American bittern is fairly common over its wide range, its numbers are thought to be decreasing due to habitat degradation. However, it is classified as "Least Concern" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It is protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in the United States and the Migratory Birds Convention Act in Canada.

American Bittern Sounds

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American Bittern Fun Facts

Did you know?
An American Bittern's eyes turn orange in the breeding season.

American Bitterns on Birda


More Herons, Bitterns

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Agami Heron

Agamia agami
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