American Bittern

Range Map
Botaurus lentiginosus

Most of these elusive herons breed from the Atlantic to the Pacific coasts of North America, above the 39th parallel in the USA, and north as far as south-central Northwest Territories in Canada. Though some birds breed in California’s Central Valley, the Pacific Northwest, and parts of the intermountain western USA, most of the population summers in the northern prairies in North America’s heartland, and the Canadian lands between the Great Lakes and Hudson Bay.

Their preferred breeding habitat is in freshwater wetlands with tall vegetation, though they sometimes use sparsely vegetated wetlands. They build their nest in the dense cover such places provide.

In winter, most of these birds wander to Florida and the Gulf of Mexico in the southern USA, but some continue south to southern Mexico, Cuba and the West Indies.

Today, science considers the American Bittern as monotypic (i.e. they recognize no subspecies).

Often very reclusive birds, these American Bitterns in California’s Central Valley cooperated with me. If they sense they’ve been spotted, they become motionless. With bills pointed upward, they blend with nearby reeds, even synchronizing their sway if the wind is blowing. The first two images in this set illustrate this behavior.

Click map markers to reveal further information