Bittern Burst out from Hiding

Published on: Apr. 9, 2009

American BitternAs I was strolling around our “swamp” yesterday, an American bittern suddenly flew out from its hiding place among the dried cattails. This was the second time in a decade or more that I’ve seen one of these incredible birds.

I call it the “swamp” because my father-in-law designed the shallow series of ponds to attract wetland birds and other wildlife. And it worked!

The American bittern looks the size of a small turkey. Their brown and white streaking of feathers helps them blend in perfectly among the tall, dried grasses in wetlands. They make a really odd gulping sound—totally unlike a typical trilling bird song.

It’s ironic, though, that the other spot along these ponds where a bittern hid before is now bare. It was covered with phragmites, a tall type of grass that can be very invasive. (In fact, when I was in New England last summer, phragmites was taking over a lot of the coastal marshes.)

Even though the bitterns may like the way they can hide in this tall stuff, its dense crowding makes it less than ideal for other plants. We had it burned last winter and now that shoots are coming up, we’ll get it sprayed with an herbicide. So the bitterns will have to content themselves with hiding among the cattails. But I hope maintaining the shallow pools with their wealth of diverse plants, frogs and bugs will continue to give birds like the bittern a place to live. As a landowner, it’s a blessing to be able to attract and support all sorts of wildlife—especially when the main investment is time and a little thought for the plants that are placed or allowed to grow there.

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