The American bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus) is a stocky wading bird best known for the male’s unique, loud, guttural call which has led to it being given a number of nicknames, including ‘thunder pumper’, ‘water belcher’ and ‘mire-drum’ (4) (5). This call, most frequently heard at dusk during the spring mating season, is produced from a specialised oesophagus (food pipe) and has a particularly powerful ‘booming’ quality (5).
The American bittern is cryptically-coloured, which aids its ‘stand and wait’ hunting behaviour – like most bitterns this species is often observed standing motionless in tall emergent vegetation, with the bill held horizontal and the eyes focused downwards to spot prey (2). The adult is rich brown above, with varying amounts of black flecking and vertical, brown streaks, and white on the underparts. The crown is rusty-brown, and there is a black stripe extending down the neck. During the breeding season, two small patches may appear on the back, as well as inconspicuous white patches on the shoulders (2) (3). The bill is dull yellow with a dusky tip on the upper mandible, and the legs and feet are greenish-yellow (3).
The male and female American bittern are similar in appearance, although the male is generally larger (2). The juvenile differs in lacking black throat patches (3).
- Length: 58.4 - 86.4 cm (2)
- Wingspan: c. 107 cm (3)