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Bitterns - Species Of Bitterns, Conservation Of Bitterns

plumage female birds streaked

Bitterns are about 12 species of wading birds in the subfamily Botaurinae of the family Ardeidae, which also includes herons and egrets. There are two genera: four species of the relatively large and stocky true bitterns (Botaurus spp.), and eight species of the much smaller and more slender, least bitterns (Ixobrychus).

Bitterns have brown-and-black, vertically streaked plumage, which renders them well camouflaged in their marshy or reed-fringed habitats. Male and female bitterns have identical plumage. When a potential predator is in the vicinity, bitterns will try to blend in with their surroundings by extending their neck and bill upright, compressing their brownish-streaked breast plumage, and facing the intruder. Bitterns may also sinuously wave their body to emulate the movements of the surrounding, wind-blown reeds and bulrushes.

Bitterns are unobtrusive animals, and many people are unaware of the presence of these animals, even in marshes where they are breeding. Bitterns fly with a slow wingbeat, low over the tops of the marsh vegetation, and then suddenly drop down out of sight to land.

Bitterns mostly eat fish, but they also take aquatic invertebrates, snakes, frogs, baby birds, and small mammals when these are available. Bitterns slowly and deliberately stalk their prey, and then capture their victim by quickly spearing it with a rapid thrust of the beak.

Bitterns usually nest on rough platforms that they construct out of sticks or marsh vegetation. The nest may be placed in a concealed place on the ground, or in a shrub or low tree. Bitterns lay three to six eggs, which are incubated by the female, who is also mostly or totally responsible for rearing the brood.


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