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American Bitterns Displaying

5-3-14  American Bittern3  058American Bitterns are very secretive marsh-dwelling birds and have coloration so cryptic that you can be looking right at one and not see it, especially if it employs its “look like a reed” stance, with bill raised towards the sky. Like other members of the Heron family, American Bitterns possess plumes. These large, white shoulder feathers are visible only at this time of year, during territorial and courtship displays and just prior to copulation, when they are erected. Not only do these plumes impress female bitterns, but they make it much easier for humans to spot the displaying males.

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8 responses

  1. Mary, I love this post! What an interesting bird and great capture of this almost comical stance. He must have almost 360 vision.

    May 2, 2014 at 12:46 pm

  2. Karen Karlberg

    I just had a Bittern return to my marsh in Becket, Ma yesterday. Was wondering if you could explain more of the courtship process.

    May 2, 2014 at 12:57 pm

    • This doesn’t do it justice, but Audubon describes it briefly as: The American Bittern has a remarkable, though rarely seen, courtship display. The male arches his back, exposing whitish plumes, shortens his neck, dips his breast forward, and “booms” at the female. Both members of the pair engage in a complicated aerial display flight.

      (It’s the “booming” sound and action that is truly amazing. Go to to hear it!)

      May 2, 2014 at 5:30 pm

  3. I love the green legs!

    May 2, 2014 at 2:01 pm

  4. Elizabeth Janeway

    Dear Mary, Years ago I actually sat next to Roger Tory Peterson at a dinner at Maine Audubon. I asked him why he did not show the flashy white wing feathers of the Bittern. He was a little grumpy in his reply, but kindly signed my 1947 edition of his book and appreciated how worn and tattered it was. Betsy Janeway

    Elizabeth Janeway

    May 2, 2014 at 2:06 pm

    • Of course, I’m dying to know what his reply to you was!!!

      May 2, 2014 at 5:30 pm

  5. EPD? But of course!

    May 2, 2014 at 5:31 pm

    • Just caught the error…thanks, Chris. I know better!

      May 2, 2014 at 5:50 pm

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