People passionate about nature

American Bittern

Above: American Bittern in flight (photo by Cam Nikkel)

What Does It Look Like?

Smaller than a Canada Goose, the American Bittern is a stocky, medium-sized heron. Its size, short legs and relatively thick neck separate this species from other herons. The bill is long and pointed. A black stripe descends down the sides of the neck but it isn't always visible. Its striped plumage, in shades of buff, brown and white, make it nearly invisible when standing still in tall vegetation.

Above: American Bittern blends in with its surroundings (Photo by Peter Taylor)

Does It Migrate?

Winters are spent along the coast of southern British Columbia, and the Atlantic coast from New England to the southern US. Some individuals winter in Mexico and Central America.

Where Does It Live?

The American Bittern breeds from Great Slave Lake to Newfoundland, and southward to the central US states. Breeding also occurs in California, New Mexico and along the Atlantic Seaboard. Nesting habitat includes shallow, freshwater marshes and swamps, and the edges of lakes and ponds where tall vegetation is found.

Above: American Bittrern (photo by Bob Shettler)

Where Can I Find It?

Grassy Narrows Marsh Trail (Hecla), Oak Hammock Marsh, Ross Marsh and The Pas are some locations where you can try your luck at finding these magnificent birds.  American Bitterns will stand perfectly still if disturbed while foraging in long grasses/reeds, with neck outstretched and head raised.  Along with their cryptic colouring, this posture helps them blend in superbly to their surroundings!


This species is apparently stable in Canada, based on Breeding Bird Survey data.  The loss of habitat due to wetland drainage and fragmentation likely constitute the biggest threats to the species.

Above: American Bittern (photo by Peter Taylor)

Did You Know?

The American Bittern has the ability of focusing its eyes downward, no doubt to aid in prey capture.  Typical food items include fishes, frogs, eels, salamanders, snakes and even small rodents.