Common Name

Scientific Name

View Utah Distribution Map

Photo by Frank Howe
Photo Copyright Frank Howe

The American bittern, Botaurus lentiginosus, breeds throughout much of northern North American, from the central United States to north-central Canada, and winters in Central America, Mexico, and the coastal southern United States. In Utah, this secretive bird is uncommonly encountered during the summer and, because most of these birds migrate south, rarely encountered during the winter.

American bitterns are typically found in extensive marshlands, usually where cattails or rushes are tall and dense. When disturbed, this bittern will characteristically remain motionless with its neck outstretched and its bill pointing straight up, blending with its surroundings almost perfectly in dense cattails. This species is more often heard than seen, especially during the breeding season, when its unique calls can be heard even at night from over half a mile away. The breeding season begins in April or May, when nest platforms of marsh plants lined with grasses are constructed. Typically three to five eggs are laid and incubated by the female for 24 to 29 days. The hatchlings remain at the nest for another two weeks. It is not known at what age the young can fly. American bitterns subsist mainly on fishes, but sometimes prey upon aquatic invertebrates.


  • Gibbs, J. P., S. Melvin, and F. A. Reid. 1992. American bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus). Birds of North America 18: 11 pp.

  • Hayward, C. L., C. Cottam, A. M. Woodbury, and H. H. Frost. 1976. Birds of Utah. Great Basin Naturalist Memoirs 1: 229 pp.