Okanagan Region  
Regional Home Page
Regional Enforcement Branch Regional Environmental Protection Branch
Regional Environmental Stewardship Branch

About Species at Risk
Species Profiles
Conservation Strategies
Related Links

Habitat Atlas for Wildlife at Risk
American Bittern
Botaurus lentiginosus

American Bittern

    Land Tenure - American Bittern Habitat
  • Length: 60 cm; Wingspan: 1.1 metres.
  • Small, stocky brown heron with long neck and legs; streaked brown and buff belly.
  • Black stripe borders white throat and yellow bill.


British Columbia Blue List

Special Significance

American Bittern populations have declined in the South Okanagan due to the draining and filling in of cattail and bulrush marshes. This species would benefit greatly from the protection of remaining wetlands and marshes. Providing buffers along marsh edges would also assist the protection of important habitat for this secretive bird.


  • In British Columbia, bitterns breed north to Mackenzie in the Interior, and in the Fraser Valley on the coast.
  • Bitterns winter from southwestern British Columbia to southern U.S. and southward.


  • Bitterns prefer marshes and wetlands with thick extensive stands of bulrushes, cattails or sedges.
  • They build well-concealed nests in thick cattail or bulrush stands, either in a dry part of the marsh or over shallow water; occasionally nest in fields outside the periphery of marsh vegetation.
  • Forage mainly in aquatic habitats but also in moist meadows or drier grasslands near wetlands.


  • Bitterns arrive in late April or early May and migrate south in the fall.
  • Breeding season extends from April to mid-August.
  • Eggs (usually 4 - 5) are laid in April through to mid-July.
  • Young bitterns likely flying by mid-August.

Food Habits

  • Diet consists of insects, amphibians, crayfish, crabs, garter snakes, dragonflies and small fish and mammals; in drier habitats may eat rodents, especially voles.
  • Maximum known lifespan is 8 years.

Interesting Facts

  • Bittern plumage matches the verticle pattern of its preferred bulrush and cattail marsh habitat.
  • This bird is most easily identified by its low, booming call, "pump-er-lunk, pump-er-lunk," that can be heard hundreds of meters away.


  • Draining and filling of marshes and other wetlands.
  • Livestock damage to wetlands and shorelines.
  • Wetland deterioration due to pollution.

Management Considerations

  • Protect wetlands and marshes and adjacent grassland areas.
  • Protect known nest sites from human disturbance.
  • Stabilize water levels in ponds and marshes.
  • Reduce and monitor use of pesticides.
  • Provide buffers along stream edges to prevent destruction due to logging, development road construction and livestock.


1. Campbell, R.W., N.K. Dawe, I. McTaggart-Cowan, J. Cooper, G. Kaiser and M.C. McNall. 1990. Birds of British Columbia: Volume 1. Royal British Columbia Museum, Victoria, BC.
2. Cannings, R.A., R.J. Cannings and S.G. Cannings. 1987. Birds of the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia. Royal British Columbia Museum, Victoria, BC. 420 pp.
3. Kaufman, K. 1996. Lives of North American birds. Houghton Mifflin Company. Boston, New York.


Government of BC links
Ministry Home Government of British Columbia Ministry of Environment Top of Page Copyright Disclaimer Privacy