The American Bittern is rather common, but an elusive bird. It takes patience and perseverance to see one, but when you do, wow, it’s worth it. The American Bittern is easiest to locate by its call. Listen for a reverberated, repeated, "pump-er-lunk, pump-er-lunk" at dusk or at dawn. It sounds like an old-fashioned water pump. The first time I heard that weird call was at Nissen Park. As soon as I got close to where the sound came from it stopped. I walked passed the area and the sound started again. I turned around and started back toward the sound and it stopped once more. That was one tricky bird. Back and forth I went on tiptoes until finally I glimpsed....just glimpsed the American Bittern. That was enough! That was cool! Maybe I will make another trip to Nissen Park, or along the LaVerkin Creek drainage.
Bitterns require wetlands with tall vegetation. Their diet consists of fish, insects, amphibians, crayfish, and small mammals. Look for them in marshes, meadows, along edges of shallow ponds or wherever the ground is wet. There are many places they could be hiding. Because they are difficult to find, it is hard to get an accurate survey. American Bittern numbers are threatened from recreational boaters, acid precipitation, and most significant, habitat loss. There is much to learn about this secretive bird that stays well-hidden in bogs, marshes and wet meadows. When it senses it is being watched, the American Bittern becomes motionless, with bill pointed upward, causing it to blend into the background.
In milder areas where water doesn’t freeze, Bitterns will stay year round. When water freezes, they migrate. Migration is late September or early October. Give yourself a challenge and try to find the American Bittern. If you see or hear one, give me a call at 435 673-0996.