American Bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus)

American Bittern

[order] CICONIIFORMES | [family] Ardeidae | [latin] Botaurus lentiginosus | [authority] Rackett, 1813 | [UK] American Bittern | [FR] Butor d’Amerique | [DE] Nordamerikanische Rohrdommel | [ES] Avetoro Lentiginoso | [NL] Noordamerikaanse Roerdomp


Genus Species subspecies Region Range
Botaurus lentiginosus NA widespread


Botaurus is a genus of bitterns, a group of wading bird in the heron family Ardeidae. It has a single representative species in each of North America, Central and South America, Eurasia and Australasia. The two northern species are partially migratory, with many birds moving south to warmer areas in winter. The four Botaurus bitterns are all large chunky, heavily streaked brown birds which breed in large reedbeds. They are secretive and well-camouflaged, and despite their size they can be difficult to observe except for occasional flight views.

Physical charateristics

The American Bittern is a medium-sized heron with a stout body and a neck, short legs, and a white neck. The upperside of the bird is brown finely speckled with black. The undersides are heavily streaked with brown and white. There is a long black patch that extends from below the eye down the side of the neck.

Listen to the sound of American Bittern

[audio: Bittern.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 125 cm wingspan max.: 135 cm
size min.: 80 cm size max.: 90 cm
incubation min.: 24 days incubation max.: 26 days
fledging min.: 7 days fledging max.: 26 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 3  
      eggs max.: 7  


North America : widespread


In the breeding range, the American Bittern inhabits areas of freshwater wetlands with tall emergent vegetation, shorelines, and vegetative fringes. The bird prefers beaver-created wetlands to those of glacial origin.


The American Bittern is considered monogamous; however, it is possibly polygynous under some circumstances. Pair formation occurs in early May when the female arrives at the nesting site. The female then chooses the nest site, which is usually in dense emergent vegetation over water that is 4-5 cm in depth. The nest is built by the female and is constructed of reeds, sedges, cattail, or other emergent vegetation. Egg laying is performed daily with one egg laid in the in the morning. Incubation begins before the full clutch is laid and lasts 24 to 28 days. Brooding and feeding duties are performed solely by the female. The hatchlings leave the nest after one to two weeks, but they receive supplemental feedings by the adults up to four weeks after hatching.

Feeding habits

The basic diet of the American Bittern includes insects, amphibians, crayfish, and small fish and mammals. When foraging, it relies mostly on stealth, waiting motionless for its prey to pass by. Its coloration adds to its ability to go undetected by prey. When its prey is in reach, the bird darts forward and seizes the prey in its bill. The prey is then killed by biting or shaking and is swallowed head first. Microhabitats for foraging include vegetation fringes and shorelines. Even-aged stands of older, dense or dry vegetation are avoided.

Video American Bittern


copyright: Don DesJardin


This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
During the breeding season, the American Bittern ranges from the Mid-United States to northern Canada. Its wintering range stretches from the south Atlantic coast across the Gulf coast and west to southern California.
American Bittern status Least Concern


Extensive post-breeding dispersal from Jul; in Sep-Nov birds migrate S, returning Feb-Mar or may in extreme N; migration basically at night. Fairly sedentary more temperate parts in S and W of breeding range. During migration occasional anywhere from s Alaska to Panama; accidental to Greenland, Bermuda; S America and several times in W Europe, S to Canary Is.

Distribution map

American Bittern distribution range map


Title Geographical variation, sex and age in Great Bittern Botaurus stellaris using coloration and morphometrics
Author(s): MARINA DMITRENOK et al.
Abstract: Biometrics, plumage and bare-part colour of 87 Gre..[more]..
Source: Ibis(2007),149, 37-44

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Author(s): SOCHEATA K. LOR
Abstract: An effective and efficient bird monitoring program..[more]..
Source: University of Missouri – Columbia

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Title Copulatory Behavior of the American Bittern
Abstract: There appears to be almost no detailed information..[more]..
Source: unknown

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Title Upland Nesting of American Bitterns, Marsh Hawks, and Short-Eared Owls
Author(s): Harold F. Duebbert and John T. Lokemoen
Abstract: Nests of American bitterns lentiginosus) marsh haw..[more]..
Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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