bittern, common name for migratory marsh birds of the family Ardeidae (heron family). The American bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus), often called "stake driver" because of a territorial male's booming call in the spring, is widely distributed in E North America. It is mostly nocturnal and feeds on frogs, fish, and insects. When pursued, the bittern escapes detection by standing motionless with its bill uplifted, its brown and yellow markings and striped foreneck blending with the marsh grasses. It is about 2 to 3 ft (61-91 cm) tall; the western and eastern least bitterns, genus Ixobrychus, are about half this size. Of the 12 species of bitterns, 8 constitute the smaller birds. The female bittern builds the nest, which consists of an unkempt arrangement of sedge grass and reeds. The nests are built on the ground along rivers or lakeshores and house the clutch of 3 to 6 eggs. Both male and female share the incubation duties. Bitterns are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Aves, order Ciconiiformes, family Ardeidae.

Bitterns are a classification of wading birds in the heron family Ardeidae. Species named as bitterns tend to be the shorter necked, often more secretive members of this family. Called hæferblæte in Old English, the word bittern came to English from Old French butor, itself from Gallo-roman butitaurus, a portmanteau of Latin būtiō and taurus. Bitterns form a monophyletic subfamily in the heron family, the Botaurinae.

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

Unlike the similar storks, ibises and spoonbills, herons 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:


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