This bird is heard more often than seen, and its call is described as booming, clacking, and gulping. The call is unusual, which is an understatement. Listen and watch here. Attempts to describe the sound include: Blonk-a-donk, oong-ka-choonk, or pump-a-lunk. The Bittern's call has earned it an incredible number of nicknames: stake-driver, thunder-pumper, water-belcher, mire-drum, barrel-maker, belcher squelcher, bog-bull, bog-hen, bog-trotter, butter bump, night-hen, plum puddin', slough pumper. I like plum puddin'.
Their call to claim territory and attract a female is often heard at dawn and dusk during breeding season. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has an occurrence map that shows American Bitterns in Southern Maryland until the end of May, and then they apparently disappear. See the map here. In reality, the birds are easily identified in the dense marshes by their call during the beginning of breeding season and are very difficult to find when they stop blonk-a-donking.
The female American Bittern gathers materials, builds the nest, incubates eggs, broods, and feeds the chicks with no assistance from the male. She builds a mound or platform about 3.5 to 8 inches above the water's surface using dead, dry reeds, sedges, cattails, or other vegetation and then lines the nest with fine grasses. The male does defend the nesting territory. Their diet consists of anything they can catch and get down their throats, including flying dragonflies, other insects, frogs, voles, fish, crabs, snakes, and salamanders. Like owls, Bitterns regurgitate pellets of material they cannot digest.
The small wetland at Adkins hosts breeding Belted Kingfishers, Green Herons, and beavers, which typically need larger areas. Hoping for breeding American Bitterns next spring may be a stretch.
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Jeobirdy Answer: This smaller cousin of the American Bittern may also show up someday in the Adkins wetland.
Jeobirdy Question: What is the Least Bittern? At about 12 inches, the Least Bittern also freezes, points its bill upward, and will sway when startled. Like the American Bittern, it is mostly identified by its call, a soft, chuckling coo coo coo coo. Listen here.
Jeobirdy Answer: This bird recently set a new non-stop longest migration record.
Jeobirdy Question: What is the Bar-tailed Godwit? A four-month-old Bar-tailed Godwit known as B6 flew nonstop for 11 days and 8,425 miles from Alaska to Tasmania, Australia.