An American Bittern at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

by Larry Jordan on January 22, 2014

American BitternAmerican Bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus) photos by Larry Jordan

I have seen quite a few American Bitterns (Botaurus lentiginosus) over the years but most I didn’t spot until they were startled into flight. That all changed last November when I spotted this bird out in the open at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.

The American Bittern is a solitary, secretive, cryptically colored heron that breeds in freshwater wetlands from the mid-United States to northern Canada1. Range Map courtesy of South Dakota Birds and Birding.

American Bittern Range Map

They usually frequent freshwater wetlands with tall, emergent vegetation but this particular bird was stepping out into the open, probably foraging for amphibians or small fish in the flooded marshy area near the end of the auto loop of the refuge.

American Bittern

When approached the American Bittern often stands rigid with their bill pointing up creating excellent camouflage in the reeds with the vertical stripes on their breast.

American Bittern

I was able to snap off a couple of in flight shots of this bird as it took flight to another part of the refuge.

American Bittern

Note the distinctive “hump” of the back of the American Bittern in flight.

American Bittern

Even more distinctive of this species is their call. They communicate throughout their visually restrictive habitat with a low, deep, resonant pumping sound accomplished through inflation of the esophagus, during which the bird contorts itself violently. Check out this video of the American Bittern creating this call.

If you enjoy learning about birds from around the world and seeing some great bird photos, check out Wild Bird Wednesday and The Bird D’pot.

References:1Birds of North America Online

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

TexWisGirl January 23, 2014 at 9:04 am

great sightings. i’ve never seen one.

thanks for dropping in!

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Carole M. January 23, 2014 at 1:35 pm

a handsome wader Larry and so interesting to be able to observe the calling habit like you did; great footage!

Reply

Stewart M January 23, 2014 at 11:52 pm

Wonderful pictures – bittern are a highlight bird in my opinion.

Cheers – Stewart M – Melbourne

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Anni @ I'd Rather B Birdin' January 24, 2014 at 3:50 am

For the first time in my birding days I saw one of these bitterns. But, lucky you, you managed to capture them in flight!!! Wonderful shares!!

Reply

Wally January 24, 2014 at 12:39 pm

Larry, great shots of the Bittern! These are really elusive and prefer to stay hidden, except for your bird, of course!

Nice work!

Reply

ingrid February 17, 2014 at 10:08 pm

Wow, incredible. I will never mistake this sound if I ever hear it. When you mention you’ve seen quite a few, I’m at the opposite end, like TexWisGirl — never seen one. What a great piece, one that will help me understand them once I do get a sighting (or a listen).

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