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Marshbirds and Shorebirds of North Dakota

American Bittern


AMERICAN BITTERN Botaurus lentiginosus L28" (71cm)

The American bittern is a large brown bird that is fairly common but usually well-hidden in cattail and bulrush marshes. The brown streaky breast of the bittern blends perfectly with its surrounding habitat. When alarmed, the bittern draws its plumage in tight, points its bill straight in the air, and 'freezes'. The voice of the American bittern is very distinctive. It sounds like an old-fashioned water pump; a hollow deep pump-er-lunk that is repeated several times. Like most herons, the American bittern is an excellent predator. It stands motionless with its eyes fixed towards the water. When it spots prey, its bill darts downward with blazing speed to seize the prey. Its prey consists of small fish, giant waterbugs, frogs, and small snakes. The American bittern is a solitary nester, not colonial like most heron species The female chooses the nest site and builds the nest. The nest is a platform of dead reeds, cattails, and bulrushes built a few inches above the water in a cattail or bulrush stand. The female lays 3-5 buff-brown eggs with an incubation period lasting 24 days. The young leave the nest 14 days after hatching.


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