110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
By Lynn Bowen
posted Apr 7, 2013 - 11:08:41am
Henry David Thoreau said the bittern is "the genius of the bog," and he was right!
Camouflaged in the tall grass at Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge in January was a gorgeous 28-inch-tall American bittern. He stood erect, with his camouflage plumage of shades of brown concealing him.
His long, streaked, tan neck and head and yellow bill pointed skyward, which is the posture a bittern assumes when striving not to be seen. However, I did see him and was glad of it!
Apparently, if a breeze sways the grass around him, he'll sway also. One bird lover said the bittern moves as slowly as the minute hand on a clock to escape being observed.
The bittern I saw had a tawny brown back and pinkish-buff chest and front, with pale brown streaks and flecks. His wings, which were flat beside him, had dark tips. He had a 42-inch wingspan and weighed about 1.5 pounds. Below each amber eye was a black stripe. Also, a thick black stripe was on either side of his neck. His legs were green, and blended in with the little bit of greenery around him.
Bitterns, part of the heron family, love to be inconspicuous and have a sound like no other bird. Their booming "song" of "pump-er-lunk" has earned them the nickname Thunder Pumper. Some say the call is like a congested water pump, and others compare it to a roaring bull. Bitterns inhale and exhale large quantities of air, and can be heard for long distances. However, the one I saw was silent.
The secretive, solitary American bitterns live in freshwater and saltwater marshes, and spend their summers in Canada and much of the U.S. They winter in the southern U.S. and south as far as Panama.
Their favorite food is fish, but frogs, eels, snakes, mice, insects and invertebrates are fine too. Occasionally these birds will hunt for grasshoppers in meadows away from the water. They are most active at dusk and in the night.
At breeding time from March through May, the male has many female partners. This ought to boost the bittern population. The female chooses the nest site, builds the nest close to the ground, and lays two to five eggs. Then she incubates them for 24 days, and cares for the chicks alone. She's a busy mom! The bittern's life span is about eight years.
Loss of habitat has unfortunately put American bitterns on the endangered list. May they never become extinct!
— Bowen lives in DeLand. Send email to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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