Bitterns are birds belonging to the subfamily Botaurinae of the heron family Ardeidae. Bitterns tend to be shorter-necked and more secretive than other members of the family. They were called hæferblæte in Old English; the word "bittern" came to English from Old French butor, itself from Gallo-Roman butitaurus, a compound of Latin būtiō and taurus.[1].

Bitterns usually frequent reed beds and similar marshy areas and feed on amphibians, reptiles, insects, and fish.

Unlike the similar storks, ibises, and spoonbills, herons, egrets, pelicans, and bitterns fly with their necks retracted, not outstretched.

The genus Ixobrychus contains mainly small species:

The genus Botaurus is the larger bitterns:

The genus Zebrilus includes only one species:

  • Zigzag heron (or properly Zigzag bittern), Zebrilus undulatus
American Bittern Seney NWR 3
American bittern
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Pelecaniformes
Family: Ardeidae
Subfamily: Botaurinae


  1. ^ Joseph P. Pickett; et al., eds. (2000). "Bittern". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Archived from the original on 2005-01-16. Retrieved 2006-07-04.
American bittern

The American bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus) is a species of wading bird in the heron family. It has a Nearctic distribution, breeding in Canada and the northern and central parts of the United States, and wintering in the U.S. Gulf Coast states, all of Florida into the Everglades, the Caribbean islands and parts of Central America.

It is a well-camouflaged, solitary brown bird that unobtrusively inhabits marshes and the coarse vegetation at the edge of lakes and ponds. In the breeding season it is chiefly noticeable by the loud, booming call of the male. The nest is built just above the water, usually among bulrushes and cattails, where the female incubates the clutch of olive-colored eggs for about four weeks. The young leave the nest after two weeks and are fully fledged at six or seven weeks.

The American bittern feeds mostly on fish but also eats other small vertebrates as well as crustaceans and insects. It is fairly common over its wide range, but its numbers are thought to be decreasing, especially in the south, because of habitat degradation. However the total population is large, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature has assessed its conservation status as being of "Least Concern".

Australasian bittern

The Australasian bittern (Botaurus poiciloptilus), also known as the brown bittern or matuku hūrepo, is a large bird in the heron family Ardeidae. A secretive bird with a distinctive booming call, it is more often heard than seen. Australasian bitterns are endangered in both Australia and New Zealand.

Bittern-class sloop

The Bittern-class sloop was a three-ship class of long-range escort vessels used in the Second World War by the Royal Navy.

Bittern (salt)

Bittern (pl. bitterns) is a bitter-tasting solution that remains after precipitation of halite (common salt) from brines and/or seawater. It is rich in magnesium chlorides, sulfates, bromides, iodides, and other chemicals present in the original waters.

Bittern Lake

Bittern Lake, originally named Rosenroll, is a village in central Alberta, Canada. It is located between Camrose and Wetaskiwin, on Highway 13. The first post office opened in the home of Ernest Roper in 1899. It was known as the Village of Rosenroll between 1904 and 1911. The present name comes from Cree Indians in the area, on account of bittern near the lake.The lake itself is not accessible by road, and is not recommended for boating or fishing due to its high counts of alkali and its shallow waters.

Locals enjoy the scenic walking trails around the lake as well as observing the native birds that nest in the area.

The nearest shopping is in Camrose, Alberta.

Bittern Line

The Bittern Line is a railway branch line in Norfolk, England, that links Norwich to Sheringham. It passes through the Broads on its route to an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on the north Norfolk coast. It is named after the bittern, a rare bird found in the reedy wetlands of Norfolk.

The line is 30 miles 22 chains (48.7 km) in length and there are 10 stations. It is part of Network Rail Strategic Route 7, SRS 07.11, and is classified as a rural line.Passenger services are operated by Greater Anglia, which also manages all of the stations.

Black bittern

The black bittern (Ixobrychus flavicollis) is a bittern of Old World origin, breeding in tropical Asia from Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, and Sri Lanka east to China, Indonesia, and Australia. It is mainly resident, but some northern birds migrate short distances.

This is a fairly large species at 58 cm (23 in) in length, being by some margin the largest bittern in the genus Ixobrychus. Compared to related species, it has a longish neck and long yellow bill. The adult is uniformly black above, with yellow neck sides. It is whitish below, heavily streaked with brown. The juvenile is like the adult, but dark brown rather than black.

Their breeding habitat is reed beds. They nest on platforms of reeds in shrubs, or sometimes in trees. Three to five eggs are laid. They can be difficult to see, given their skulking lifestyle and reed bed habitat, but tend to fly fairly frequently when the all black upperparts makes them unmistakable.

Black bitterns feed on insects, fish, and amphibians.

Cinnamon bittern

The cinnamon bittern or chestnut bittern (Ixobrychus cinnamomeus) is a small Old World bittern, breeding in tropical and subtropical Asia from India east to China and Indonesia. It is mainly resident, but some northern birds migrate short distances.

Eurasian bittern

The Eurasian bittern or great bittern (Botaurus stellaris) is a wading bird in the bittern subfamily (Botaurinae) of the heron family Ardeidae. There are two subspecies, the northern race (B. s. stellaris) breeding in parts of Europe and Asia, as well as on the northern coast of Africa, while the southern race (B. s. capensis) is endemic to parts of southern Africa. It is a secretive bird, seldom seen in the open as it prefers to skulk in reed beds and thick vegetation near water bodies. Its presence is apparent in the spring, when the booming call of the male during the breeding season can be heard. It feeds on fish, small mammals, fledgling birds, amphibians, crustaceans and insects.

The nest is usually built among reeds at the edge of bodies of water. The female incubates the clutch of eggs and feeds the young chicks, which leave the nest when about two weeks old. She continues to care for them until they are fully fledged some six weeks later.

With its specific habitat requirements and the general reduction in wetlands across its range, the population is thought to be in decline globally. However the decline is slow, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature has assessed its overall conservation status as being of "least concern". Nevertheless, some local populations are at risk and the population of the southern race has declined more dramatically and is cause for concern. In the United Kingdom it is one of the most threatened of all bird species.

HMS Bittern (L07)

HMS Bittern was a Bittern-class sloop of the Royal Navy. Although the last to be completed she was the name ship of her class, replacing an earlier Bittern which had been re-named before launch. Bittern was laid down on 27 August 1936 by J. Samuel White, of Cowes, Isle of Wight, launched on 14 July 1937 and completed on 15 March 1938.

She served in Home waters and off the coast of Norway during the Second World War. She took part in the ill-fated Namsos Campaign of 1940, where she was used to defend allied troop ships entering and leaving Namsos harbour from submarine attacks. The harbour came under regular air attack by the Luftwaffe, and on 30 April, Bittern was spotted and mistaken for an Allied cruiser by a squadron of Junkers Ju 87 dive bombers. Bittern came under repeated attack from 0700 hours onwards. She was hit and severely damaged, being set on fire by a bomb dropped from Oberleutnant Elmo Schäfer's aircraft belonging to I./StG 1. Nearby allied ships came alongside and took the survivors off. When this had been completed, Bittern was sunk by a torpedo from the destroyer Janus.In 2011 it was reported that the ship has started to leak oil and contained roughly 200,000 litres (44,000 imp gal; 53,000 US gal) of oil.


The herons are long-legged freshwater and coastal birds in the family Ardeidae, with 64 recognised species, some of which are referred to as egrets or bitterns rather than herons. Members of the genera Botaurus and Ixobrychus are referred to as bitterns, and, together with the zigzag heron, or zigzag bittern, in the monotypic genus Zebrilus, form a monophyletic group within the Ardeidae. Egrets are not a biologically distinct group from the herons, and tend to be named differently because they are mainly white or have decorative plumes in breeding plumage. Herons, by evolutionary adaptation, have long beaks.

The classification of the individual heron/egret species is fraught with difficulty, and no clear consensus exists about the correct placement of many species into either of the two major genera, Ardea and Egretta. Similarly, the relationships of the genera in the family are not completely resolved. However, one species formerly considered to constitute a separate monotypic family, the Cochlearidae or the boat-billed heron, is now regarded as a member of the Ardeidae.

Although herons resemble birds in some other families, such as the storks, ibises, spoonbills, and cranes, they differ from these in flying with their necks retracted, not outstretched. They are also one of the bird groups that have powder down. Some members of this group nest colonially in trees, while others, notably the bitterns, use reed beds.


Ixobrychus is a genus of bitterns, a group of wading bird in the heron family Ardeidae. Ixobrychus is from Ancient Greek ixias, a reed-like plant and brukhomai, to bellow.It has a single representative species in each of North America, South America, Eurasia, and Australasia. The tropical species are largely resident, but the two northern species are partially migratory, with many birds moving south to warmer areas in winter.

The Ixobrychus bitterns are all small species, with their four larger relatives being in the genus Botaurus. They breed in large reedbeds, and can often be difficult to observe except for occasional flight views due to their secretive behaviour. Like other bitterns, they eat fish, frogs, and similar aquatic life.

Least bittern

The least bittern (Ixobrychus exilis) is a small heron, the smallest member of the family Ardeidae found in the Americas.

Little bittern

The little bittern or common little bittern (Ixobrychus minutus) is a wading bird in the heron family, Ardeidae. Ixobrychus is from Ancient Greek ixias, a reed-like plant and brukhomai, to bellow, and minutus is Latin for "small".

New Zealand bittern

The New Zealand bittern (Ixobrychus novaezelandiae) is an extinct and enigmatic species of heron in the family Ardeidae. It was endemic to New Zealand and was last recorded alive in the 1890s.Common names for this species include New Zealand little bittern, spotted heron, and kaoriki (Maori). The scientific species name also has numerous junior synonyms.


The sunbittern (Eurypyga helias) is a bittern-like bird of tropical regions of the Americas, and the sole member of the family Eurypygidae (sometimes spelled Eurypigidae) and genus Eurypyga. It is found in Central and South America, and has three subspecies. The sunbittern shows both morphological and molecular similarities with the kagu (Rhynochetos jubatus) of New Caledonia, indicating a gondwanic origin, both species being placed in the clade Eurypygiformes.

USS Artemis (ID-2187)

USS Artemis (ID-2187), also known as the USAT Artemis, was a German passenger liner seized by U.S. Customs at New York City at the start of American involvement in World War I. She was built in 1902 as Iowa and was renamed Bohemia in 1912. She served the United States Army as the transport USAT Artemis, and, at war’s end, she was transferred to the United States Navy as a transport for returning American troops and military equipment from Europe.

Postwar, she was transferred to the United States Shipping Board (USSB) (later the United States Maritime Commission (USMC)) and served as a merchant ship until 1941, when she was transferred to the Ministry of War Transport (MoWT), becoming one of the Empire ships, Empire Bittern. In July 1944, Empire Bittern was sunk as a blockship in support of Operation Overlord.

USS Bittern (AM-36)

USS Bittern (AM-36) was a Lapwing-class minesweeper in the United States Navy. She was named after the bittern, a bird of the heron family.

Bittern was launched 15 February 1919 by Alabama Dry Dock and Shipbuilding Co., Mobile, Alabama; sponsored by Mrs. C. R. Doll; and commissioned 28 May 1919, Lieutenant William P. Bachman in command. She was scuttled after damage from enemy action in the early days of World War II.

Yellow bittern

The yellow bittern (Ixobrychus sinensis) is a small bittern. It is of Old World origins, breeding in the northern Indian Subcontinent, east to Japan and Indonesia. It is mainly resident, but some northern birds migrate short distances. It has been recorded as a vagrant in Alaska and there is a single sighting in Britain, from Radipole Lake, Dorset on November 23, 1962 – however, the BOU have always considered this occurrence to be of uncertain provenance and currently it is not accepted onto the official British List.

This is a small species at 36 to 38 cm (14 to 15 in) in length, with a short neck and longish bill. The male is uniformly dull yellow above and buff below. The head and neck are chestnut, with a black crown. The female's crown, neck and breast are streaked brown, and the juvenile is like the female but heavily streaked brown below, and mottled with buff above. Yellow bitterns feed on insects, fish and amphibians.

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