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American Bittern

There are two bittern species in the United States, the American Bittern and the smaller Least Bittern.  Both species are generally shy and spend most of their time in weeds and cattails in wetland areas.

American Bittern  – 28 inches

American Bittern

The American Bittern is fairly large, distinctive in appearance and not easily confused with other species. Photograph © Greg Lavaty


American Bittern

The American Bittern’s profile and color pattern help it bend in with its environment. Photograph © Sam Crowe


American Bittern

When disturbed, the American Bittern will often stand very still with its bill pointed upward, in imitation of the surrounding reeds. Photo © Sam Crowe


American Bittern

While American Bitterns have a strong affinity for wetland areas they can show up in some strange locations during migration. They also have a very unusual call.


Least Bittern – 13 inches

Least Bittern

The small Least Bittern can often be observed working the edges of reeds and cattails. Photograph © Greg Lavaty


Least Bittern - Juvenile

Juveniles and adults similar. Juveniles have browner backs and more pattern on the wings. Photograph © Sam Crowe


Juvenile Least Bittern

The brown back with pale streaks on the juvenile.  Photo © Sam Crowe


Least Bittern in Flight

Note the very short tail.  Photograph © Greg Lavaty


About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

Let others know your thoughts or ask an expert


Saturday 8th of July 2023

Why are they attracted to my adult chickens.

Patrick O'Donnell

Monday 10th of July 2023

@Tracy- It's hard to say but as with most wild animals, bitterns and other birds are usually attracted to food, or, the possibility of food. They might find some bugs or other small animals near the chickens, or, might try and snatch a young chick (yikes!). Or, the heron might be attracted to the sound and movements of the chickens in general and associate that with the possibility of food.

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