Birds of the Bible – American Bittern

American Bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus) by Lee

American Bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus) by Lee

The Bittern is found in the KJV in three verses of Scripture. Some versions translate it differently. But for the sake of this article, here are those verses:

I will also make it a possession for the bittern, and pools of water: and I will sweep it with the besom of destruction, saith the LORD of hosts. (Isaiah 14:23 KJV)

But the cormorant and the bittern shall possess it; the owl also and the raven shall dwell in it: and he shall stretch out upon it the line of confusion, and the stones of emptiness. (Isaiah 34:11 KJV)

And flocks shall lie down in the midst of her, all the beasts of the nations: both the cormorant and the bittern shall lodge in the upper lintels of it; their voice shall sing in the windows; desolation shall be in the thresholds: for he shall uncover the cedar work. (Zephaniah 2:14 KJV)

We were out at Circle B Bar Reserve just before Christmas and spotted an American Bittern. They are quite evasive and not spotted often, at least by me. That protection reminds me of several verses:

Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings, (Psalms 17:8 KJV)

Deliver me, O LORD, from mine enemies: I flee unto thee to hide me. (Psalms 143:9 KJV)


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Bitterns are members of the Ardeidae – Herons, Bitterns Family. “Although common in much of its range, the American Bittern is usually well-hidden in bogs, marshes and wet meadows. Usually solitary, it walks stealthily among cattails or bulrushes. If it senses that it has been seen, the American Bittern becomes motionless, with its bill pointed upward, causing it to blend into the reeds. It is most active at dusk. More often heard than seen, this bittern has a call that resembles a congested pump.

Like other members of the heron family, the American Bittern feeds in marshes and shallow ponds, dining on amphibians, fish, insects and reptiles.

This bittern winters in the southern United States and Central America. It summers throughout Canada and much of the United States. As a long-distance migrant, it is a very rare vagrant in Europe, including Great Britain and Ireland. This bird nests in isolated places with the female building the nest and the male guarding it. Two or three eggs are incubated by the female for 29 days, and the chicks leave after 6–7 weeks.” (From Wikipedia)

Identification Tips: (USGS)

  • Length: 23 inches Wingspan: 45 inches
  • Medium-sized wading bird
  • Dark brown upperparts
  • Underparts streaked brown and white
  • Black malar streak
  • Yellow bill with dark culmen
  • Black primaries and secondaries
  • Sometimes “freezes” with neck held upwards
  • Immatures similar to adults but lack the malar streak

American Bittern sounds from Cornell



5 thoughts on “Birds of the Bible – American Bittern

  1. Wow. There are so many quiet majesties of God that are “hidden in plain sight”, like a bittern standing motionless amidst a crop of cattails. So much of the time, though we often overlook it, God is at work within His creation, including situation where He is working redemptively within the lives of people like us, — and it goes unnoticed by busy passers-by. But from time to time we should pause to ponder, and we will be rewarded for doing so. Just like the blessing we have, today, to see (and hear) bitterns in Lee’s birding site! Thanks again, Lee, for taking the time to share God’s glory with us.


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