I spent yesterday morning at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge and was in for a surprise. I thought I saw a juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron on a dead pile of rushes on the west side of the auto tour loop but a second glance at the bird surprised me. The bird I was looking at wasn’t a juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron at all, it was an adult American Bittern out in the open!
American Bitterns are more often seen than heard because they are stealth predators who blend into their marshy habitat well. Unlike many other wading birds they will freeze rather than flush when approached, point their head upward and sway back and forth to blend in with the surrounding vegetation which makes them even harder to see.
American Bitterns use loud calls to communicate with each other and the calls sound a bit like a water pump. You may need to turn up your volume to hear this recording clearly.
Their booming and gulping calls have earned them nicknames that include “stake-driver”, “water-belcher” and “thunder-pumper”. The bird I saw yesterday wasn’t calling or I might have tried to record it myself.
I was very excited because although I have photographed American Bitterns before this was my first opportunity with this species out in the open. It preened for a bit then scratched its head slowly. When I saw its fluffed up head feathers while it scratched I compared them to images I have seen of Albert Einstein’s wild hair and it made me laugh. I admit, I might have an odd sense of humor.
American Bitterns are migratory and will spend winters where there is open water, they breed in the marshes here in Utah and arrive in the early spring to breed.
American Bitterns eat small fish and mammals, insects, crayfish and amphibians.
During the warmer months I always keep an eye out for American Bitterns at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge but have only been rewarded for my efforts a few times with bitterns that are quite well hidden so yesterdays find made me want to dance with joy!
This bittern eventually flew off and probably found a place where it could hide in the marshy vegetation again.
Life is good.