American Bittern

Botaurus lentiginosus




Bitterns, Herons and Egrets (Ardeidae)

Code 4


Code 6



Egg Color:

Pale brown to olive buff

Number of Eggs:

2 - 7

Incubation Days:

24 - 28

Egg Incubator:


Nest Location:

On dense marsh ground above water., Mud in tall vegetation.

Nest Material:

Grasses, reeds, and cattails.





American Bittern: Medium-sized, secretive, heron-like wading bird with stout body and neck, and relatively short legs. Upperparts are streaked brown and buff and underparts are white with brown streaks. Throat is white with black slashes on sides of neck. Sexes are similar. Juvenile is similar but with dark brown neck slashes.

Range and Habitat

American Bittern: Breeds from southeastern Alaska, Manitoba, and Newfoundland south to California, Kansas, and Pennsylvania. Spends winters from coastal British Columbia and the west coast to the Gulf and Atlantic coasts, and south to Costa Rica (rarely) and Greater Antilles. Preferred habitats include freshwater wetlands with tall emergent vegetation.

Breeding and Nesting

American Bittern: Usually considered monogamous, but sometimes exhibits polygamy. Female chooses nest site and builds the nest, usually in dense emergent vegetation over water. Nest is constructed of reeds, sedges, cattails, and other vegetation. Two to seven pale brown or olive buff eggs are laid and incubated for 24 to 28 days by the female.

Foraging and Feeding

American Bittern: Feeds on insects, amphibians, crayfish, and small fish and mammals. When foraging, it relies on stealth while waiting motionlessly for prey to pass by, at which time it darts forward to seize the prey in its bill.


American Bittern: On breeding grounds, makes a loud pumping sound, "oong-KA-chunk", repeated a few times, audible for half a mile or more. Flight call is a low "kok-kok-kok."

Similar Species

American Bittern: Least Bittern is much smaller with pale wing coverts. Juvenile night herons have white spots or streaks on upperparts, lack black neck slashes, have thicker bills, and lack black primaries and secondaries.


Belly, undertail coverts, chest, flanks, and foreneck.

Back, rump, hindneck, wings, and crown.
Parts of a Standing bird X
Head Feathers and Markings X
Parts of a Flying bird X