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Description of the American Bittern


The American Bittern is a secretive marsh bird, mostly brown with a long, boldly streaked neck, greenish legs, and a long greenish-yellow, pointed bill. It has a black malar stripe and dark flight feathers.

american bittern

American Bittern display 600 gl
Display posture.  Photograph © Greg Lavaty

American Bittern flight 600 gl
Photograph © Greg Lavaty


American Bittern swimming 600 gl

 American Bitterns are not often seen swimming but they do sometimes show up in unusual locations during migration.
Photograph © Greg Lavaty


Same as male.

Seasonal change in appearance



Juveniles resemble adults.


American Bitterns inhabit wetlands and marshes with much emergent vegetation.


American Bitterns eat fish, but also many other aquatic animals.


The American Bittern forages by waiting patiently or walking very slowly and capturing prey with a quick thrust of its bill.

When threatened, it points its neck and bill straight up, using its striped neck to camouflage it within the reeds.


American Bitterns breed from southern Canada as far south as the central U.S. states. Their population appears to be decreasing.

More information:

Bent Life History

Visit the Bent Life History for extensive additional information on the American Bittern.

Fun Facts

American Bitterns have been observed capturing flying dragonflies.

Young American Bitterns are fed by the female, who regurgitates partially digested prey.


American Bitterns produce a very distinctive, booming, "Ooonk-aloonk."


The nest is a platform of reeds and grasses placed in emergent vegetation or on the ground near water.

Number: 3-5 eggs.

Color: brown or olive-brown in color.

Incubation and fledging:
The young hatch at about 24-28 days. Young leave the nest after 1-2 weeks, but are tended for several more weeks.