An online resource based on the award-winning nature guide

Male American Bitterns Calling

6-8-13 calling A. bitternAmerican Bitterns typically nest in tall, standing cattails, rushes and sedges, where they are well concealed. Like most birds, male bitterns use their voice to attract a female and to stake out their territory. Dense marshes present a challenge when it comes to being heard, however. American Bitterns overcome this challenge by having a very low-frequency call, which is audible at great distances in dense marsh vegetation. Once you’ve heard a bittern’s call, you’ll never forget it. It is very deep, and has three syllables – “oong-ka-choonk” – which are preceded by clicks and gulps. The bittern makes this call multiple times by inflating his esophagus while contorting himself quite violently. A female American Bittern couldn’t help but be impressed. (You can hear a bittern calling by visiting Cornell’s site, .

5 responses

  1. Audio clip/commentary, from Cornell

    June 7, 2013 at 12:21 pm

    • Thanks so much, Tom!

      June 7, 2013 at 12:30 pm

    • Adrienne

      Wow; I thought that sound was a frog or some marsh sound; no idea it was the Bittern, thanks Mary!

      June 7, 2013 at 1:47 pm

  2. The first time I heard them in the marsh, there must have been 50 of them in the cat tails! I thought it was water bubbling up in the marsh! It was amazing to hear so many at once.

    June 8, 2013 at 12:57 pm

    • That’s remarkable, Amy. I’ve only ever heard one in any one spot.

      June 8, 2013 at 2:24 pm

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