American Bittern

Botaurus lentiginosus
An American Bittern specimen on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

Although not particularly small (around 23 inches), the American Bittern’s mottled brown plumage and short, thick build provide it with excellent camouflage in its heavily vegetated habitat. This heron may be best identified by its coloration, short yellow legs, white throat, and black neck stripes. Male and female American Bitterns are similar to one another in all seasons. The American Bittern breeds widely across the northern United States and the southern half of Canada. In winter, American Bitterns migrate to coastal areas of the United States south to Mexico, Central America, and the West Indies. This species may be found all year along the Pacific coast as well as in the Mid-Atlantic Region. American Bitterns breed primarily in shallow, heavily-vegetated freshwater wetlands. In winter, this species utilizes many of the same habitat types as in summer, but some bitterns wintering close to the coast may be found in brackish water. American Bitterns primarily eat animal matter, both invertebrates (mainly insects) and vertebrates (including fish, amphibians, and small mammals). Due to its short stature and the nature of its habitat, American Bitterns are difficult to observe while feeding or standing still. Bitterns may be more visible in the air, undertaking short flights above the top of the marsh grass. This species is primarily active during the day.

DC Information

Fairly common breeding bird in tidewater habitats. Arrives in March, breeds in May and June, and departs by November. Sexes are similar.

Specimen Information

Date: Not known; 1891 or earlier
Collected By: Not known
Locality: Not known
Sex: Not known
Catalog ID: 117765

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species