Everglades Bird Watching: American Bittern
People are not the only ones who want to break away from the bitter, winter cold and take refuge with us in the paradise of Southwest Florida. Here in the Everglades, we have a yearly visitor that flies in from great distances to warm their feathers in the multi-faceted habitats offered in the extraordinary Everglades National Park. This species of wading bird from the heron family is commonly known as the American Bittern. This feathered friend lives in most of North America and breeds in southern Canada, but migrates to the Everglades (among other southerly destinations) for winter.
The American Bittern disguises itself well among the cattails and other vegetation at the marshes banks, as its brown coloring and long, robust bill and legs, which are yellowish-green, allows them to blend into a field of tall grasses or patch of rough vegetation seamlessly, which they will do whenever they sense they’ve been spotted. This makes spotting them out a challenge, one we are always up for! It is a territorial bird and has a threat display which involves slowly erecting long, white, normally hidden, plumes on its shoulders, to form wing-like extensions.
These birds usually hunt by walking quietly in shallow water and among the grasses, stalking its prey. It is mainly nocturnal and is most active at dusk. More often heard than seen, the male bittern has a loud, booming call that has garnered some creative nicknames, including “stake-driver,” “thunder-pumper,” “water-belcher,” and “mire-drum.”. While producing this sound, the bird’s head is thrown upward and then forward in an awkward, jerky motion, and the sound is repeated up to seven times. Typical fare for the American Bittern includes fish, amphibians, reptiles, small mammals, crustaceans and insects.
Although not listed as endangered, with a booming population in most of its territory, the American Bittern has seen a decrease in numbers in the Everglades over the years to habitat degradation.