Birds of Seabrook Island

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  American Bittern
 
 

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  Order Ciconiiformes (Pelecaniformes) - Wading Birds
   Family Ardeidae - Herons and Bitterns
  Wading Birds are medium to large, long-legged and long necked. Their bills are long, straight, and sharp. Most species are dependent on water for feeding. Most nest in colonies - a few are solitary. Young remain in the nest after hatching and are cared for by both parents.
   The Tree of Life places herons and bitterns in the Pelecaniformes.
Herons and Bitterns are widely distributed around the world. They fly with their neck folded into an "S" and their legs folded against their body (contrast with ibises and storks). Herons typically feed on fish but may take a wide variety of small prey.
Bitterns
are small herons - secretive marsh dwellers with cryptic, streaked plumage that blends with their surroundings, They are typically seen in cordgrass, cattails, or other emergent marsh vegetation. They are solitary but may be common in ideal habitats. They are more often heard than seen. They are usually considered to be fresh-water herons. In bitterns, unlike most herons, females do most of the incubation and provide care for the young.
     
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  American Bittern, Botarus lentiginosus 
 
  Cornell     USGS     Wiki     ToL     EoL
        YEAR ROUND - Uncommon or occasional in winter, breeds? / Rare (vagrant)
           FRESH WATER (year-round); BRACKISH MARSH (winter) -
           (marshes with tall emergent vegetation
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   The American Bittern is a bit larger than the Snowy Egret. It has a brown body with bold red-brown stripes on the throat and breast. There is a dark malar strip defining the throat. Their wing feathers are dark and, in flight, contrast with lighter coverts.
   They move slowly through dense marsh grass and "freeze" in an upright and cryptic position if disturbed. They are difficult to see.
American Bittern
     
American Bittern. Silver Bluff, SC
Photo by Ed Konrad
   
  RANGE: American Bitterns breed across temperate North America from Canada to Panama and the West Indies. They move south to our coast and Mexico in winter. A few may breed in more southern parts of the country but I would not expect it on Seabrook in summer. Potter, et al., 2006, indicate that they breed locally near the coast but that the breeding range is not well known because few nests have been found.
  BREEDING: Bitterns breed solitarily (not in colonies). Males apparently choose the nest site but the female builds. Their nest is on the ground in tall emergent marsh vegetation and is a platform of sticks and some grass, reeds, and cattails with a lining of fine grass.
   Bitterns may be polygynous (males have more than one mate) in favorable conditions.
   They lay 3-5 eggs which are incubated by the female for 28-29 (24-28) days. The downy young have their eyes open but are immobile and are tended by the female (semialtricial). Young leave the nest in about 2 weeks but remain nearby and are fed by the female up to 4 weeks. They are able to fly at about 7-8 weeks.
   Their nest may be parasitized by Redheads (a duck species).
  DIET: Bitterns feed on fish and other small vertebrates and invertebrates. They feed their early young by regurgitation. American Bitterns typically forage in cat tails, cordgrass, or other vegetation (not in open water). They are solitary and stealthy, moving slowly through the grass. If alarmed, they assume an upright posture and blend into the surrounding vegetation. They are "stealthy."
  VOICE: American Bitterns have a loud, deep, pumping song that is unmistakable ("blookn-ke-donk," repeated at least twice). I would not expect to hear it on Seabrook in the winter but they might call as spring approaches. We have heard them singing regularly in a marsh in central Pennsylvania in spring.
   When flushed, they utter a rapid, throaty "kok kok kok" or give a nasal "squark" - intermediate between night-herons and a Mallard.
  NOTES:
   Checklists -
      Seabrook. Kiawah - occasional, fall through spring.
      Coastal - uncommon (local) winter visitor. Hilton Head - uncommon permanent resident.
         Cape Romain -
uncommon/uncommon/uncommon/occasional. Huntington Beach - rare September - June
      Caw Caw - uncommon/uncommon (breeds)/fairly common; common. ACE - uncommon/uncommon/uncommon/occasional.
   CBC: ACE 2, 0, 2, 1, 2, 0, 1,3; Charleston 1, 1, 90, 0, 1, 0, 0,1;
            St. Helena/Fripp x, x, x, x, x, x, 1, 0; Hilton Head 0, 0, 0, 0, 0, 1, 0, 1;
            McClellanville 5, 2, 5, 3, nc, 5, 26, 11; Winyah Bay x, x, 4, 1, 0, 1, 1, 3; Litchfield/Pawley's 0, 0, 0, 0, 1, 2, 1, 4.
   P&G: Casual breeder (5 nesting records), Rare winter visitor.
   M&P: Evidence of breeding at Magnolia Gardens in 1967-68 but not confirmed in later years. Summer vagrants (Bear Island, Hell-hole Swamp). Egg date: 23 May.
   Avendex: 18 coastal records - March-September (none in winter). 10 adults/young reported near Yemassee 1 May 1987
   Potter: Uncommon to fairly common winter resident. The species nests locally near the coast but its breeding range is not well known and few nests have been found.
  ●   Occasional in winter. I have seen one bittern and heard others at several times in the fresh-water marshes on Jenkins Point in the winter. I have also seen one in the cord grass along Capn' Sam's Creek (a salt water creek). They are probably regular winter visitors on Seabrook but are difficult to see. I doubt that they breed on the island but are listed as breeders at Caw Caw and published records (Avendex) suggest that they are more likely in the summer than winter but these reports are probably biased toward breeders. The Kiawah list has them absent in summer.
     
  Banner - American Egret, South Carolina Aquarium.
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