American bittern American bittern

A medium-sized and very secretive heron in Wyoming.

Fun Critter Facts

- The American Bittern can be found in marsh habitats across Wyoming.  In SW Wyoming, this cryptic (camouflaged) denizen of marshland is typically found during the milder months in our larger wetlands, such as the Muddy Creek wetlands north of Baggs, along sections of the Ham's Fork, and in wetland complexes managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service at Seedskadee and Cokeville Meadows National Wildlife Refuges.  In winter, these birds retreat to bodies of water that don't freeze typically along our coasts. 

- American bitterns feed solely on animal matter, ranging from fish, salamanders and frogs to insects, snakes, and small mammals.  They forage along the shoreline in shallow water, standing motionless until prey come within striking range of their spear-like beak.  Prey are swallowed head first and whole; bones, hair and scales are regurgitated as pellets similar to that done by owls.

- Females build a nest in the "tules" (cattails, sedges or bulrushes), typically those that are flooded, and produces anywhere from 2-7 eggs.  Incubation is lengthy, about 28 days, and young are totally dependent on the hen for a couple of weeks.  Males have no duties whatsoever in nest construction, incubation or chick rearing. 

American bitterns are rarely seen.  Their habit of looking skyward and freezing in place, combined with their perfect camouflage, make them particularly difficult to find, let alone observe for any period of time.  They are much more frequently heard, and can be mistaken for no other species. 

Their call is something one will never forget, a soft deep voiced thumping followed by a  koong kah choonk,  koong kah choonk, koong kah choonk (we did Spell Check on that for sure)......"old timers" referred to these as bog bulls or bog thumpers.  When combined with the other wild creatures calling in a Wyoming marsh, an observer can envision being in the deepest Congo or some other far-flung-exotic land.  Oh, but you have to get up early or stay late to hear them.....:) 

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