The American Bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus), a marsh bird of the heron family, inhabits summer shallow freshwater wetlands across much of Canada and the northern United States. Winter migration, finds the Bittern primarily in the southern United States and Mexico. The Bittern averages a 3-foot wingspan, body weight of 1 pound and a tip of the beak to end of tail length of 2.5 feet. In comparison, the Bitterns well know larger cousin the Great Blue Heron, boasts a 6-foot wingspan and body weight of 8 pounds.
The Bittern’s feet appear oversized for its relatively diminutive body, however, like snowshoes function, the large feet allow the Bittern to walk across unstable marsh environments without sinking.
A master of camouflage, both the male and female
Bittern boast plumage of tan feathers, accentuated by white, brown and black streaks, making it almost impossible to locate in the reeds and cattails of its favored habitats. When frightened, the Bittern points it’s bill skyward, making its head, neck and body mimic the marshy background.
American Bittern lay between 3-5 eggs that the female incubates for at least 24 days. Young usually leave the nest after about two weeks but are not able to fly for around a month and a half.
Birdwatchers hoping to see a Bittern are more likely to first hear this elusive bird than see it. By arriving at a marsh at dawn or dusk and listen for the bitterns booming song, a loud snapping followed by a noise sounding like water dripping into a bowl from a leaky faucet, will help birdwatchers locate this sometime elusive avian.
In the United States, the destruction of wetland habitat has caused a marked yearly decline in the population of the American Bittern. Despite being protected, under the United States Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, habitat loss is slowly destroying this species. The American Bittern’s survival depends on the preservation of wetlands and continued study of its biology and behavior.
Wildlife Quiz Questions:
1. What is the wingspan of the American Bittern?
2. What is the range of the American Bittern?
3. Does the American Bittern inhabit Maine marshes?
4. What are the primary plumage colors of the American Bittern?
5. Can you determine males and female Bittern’s by sight?
6. When and where is the best chance to see the American Bittern?
7. Is the American Bittern protected?
8. What is the incubation period on American Bittern eggs?
9. How long after hatching are Bittern young able to fly?
Wildlife Quiz Answers:
1. The American Bittern has a wingspan of approximately 3 feet.
2. The range of the American Bittern stretches from Canada to Mexico.
3. Yes, Maine hosts a population of American Bittern’s viewable by patient birdwatchers.
4. The primary plumage coloration of the American Bittern includes white, brown and black.
5. No, both the males and female Bittern share similar plumage, so determining sex by sight would be extremely difficult.
6. The best chance of seeing an American Bittern is by visiting freshwater marshes at dawn and dusk and listening for it’s strange song.
7. Yes, the American Bittern is protected under the United States Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.
8. American Bittern usually lay between 3-5 eggs.
9. American Bittern young are not able to fly for around a month and a half after leaving the nest.
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