One of the most distinctive and graceful bird families, the Ardeidae played a major role in the formation of the American conservation movement. Wading bird populations were decimated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when it was fashionable for women to wear hats adorned with feathers, wings, or even entire stuffed birds. Worldwide, 60 to 65 species of this family are recognized, of which 17 species occur in North America.
They are often divided into 3 groups:
- Bitterns (3)
- Herons and Egrets (12)
- Night-herons (2)
The American Bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus) is a large brown stocky heron with a thick neck and short legs. Sexes are similar. Brown upperparts are finely flecked with black. Brown head with darker cap; yellow eyes and bill; legs and feet pale greenish or yellow.
They feed on a variety of aquatic prey.
Distribution & Habitat
The American bitterns prefer freshwater wetlands with tall vegetation. They can be found in Southern Canada and Northern U.S., rarely in the Southern U.S. In winter they are commonly seen on Pacific Coast as far north as Puget Sound, in Southern U.S. Mexico, and Cuba. Their numbers may be declining due to wetland loss and degradation.
These birds are detected primarily by their eerie “pumping” vocalizations. It is rarely seen in saline marshes. It attempts concealment by pointing its bill upwards; it may sway its head and neck back and forth to mimic wind-rustled vegetation.