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American Bitterns Calling

A. bittern calling 814Because they live in marshes amongst dense vegetation where sight is restricted, American Bitterns communicate with each other largely through their calls. These calls are made at a very low frequency which allows them to be audible at great distances.

The call heard most often, especially early in their breeding season, is low, resonant, and composed of three syllables that sound something like “ pump-er-lunk ,“ preceded by a series of clicking and gulping sounds. The male bittern accomplishes this by inflating his esophagus while simultaneously contorting himself quite violently. He repeats the call up to ten times, and uses it to establish his territory as well as to advertise for a mate. You can hear the American Bittern’s call by going to

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10 responses

  1. I love Bitterns and their mating call! It sounds like water bubbling up from the marsh!

    May 11, 2015 at 7:32 am

  2. One nested in our pond in Etna one year. She thought she was invisible when she put her neck up straight, but when I went by on the way to the mailbox, I could see her eye rolling in her head.

    May 11, 2015 at 9:43 am

    • Hi Willem,
      I laughed out loud when I read your comment, as I can picture it perfectly!

      May 12, 2015 at 6:27 am

  3. Dr Jo

    I love that you included the link to the audio file!

    There they described it as  “a deep pumping “oong-ka-choonk.”  Do ornithologists and naturalists have a way to agree on such descriptions or is it the Wild West, with each independently doing their best?  🙂


    May 11, 2015 at 1:06 pm

    • Hi Jo,
      It’s a bit of both…there are several versions of just about every song I can think of…for instance, the white-throated sparrow, in the U.S., is said to sound like it’s singing, “Poor Sam Peabody – Peabody – Peabody.” In Canada they say it sings, “Oh sweet Canada – Canada – Canada!”

      May 11, 2015 at 1:37 pm

  4. Kathie Fiveash

    Mary, are bitterns rare? I have never heard one.

    May 12, 2015 at 4:16 pm

  5. That’s lovely that is, Mary.

    May 12, 2015 at 4:51 pm

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