“Oonk-a-lunk” American Bittern

by Apr 1, 2024Birds, Shollenberger, Tim Fleming

Walking through Shollenberger the other day, I had an unexpected encounter with one of nature’s most elusive creatures – the American Bittern. I was alerted to its presence by its strange, guttural call. It is a deep, resonant “oonk-a-lunk” like a cross between a deep grunt and a funky drumbeat. Once you hear it echoing through the marsh, you’ll never forget it.

But hearing this bird doesn’t guarantee seeing it. Standing motionless amidst the dense reeds and cattails, its mottled brown plumage blending seamlessly with the surroundings, it can be very difficult to spot. If it wasn’t for those sharp eyes peering out from the reeds, I might’ve missed it altogether.

Getting pictures of one presents its own unique challenges. These birds are notoriously shy and wary of human presence, making them quick to retreat into the safety of the reeds at the slightest sign of danger. Achieving a memorable shot requires a combination of stealth, patience, and a good deal of luck.

If you want to see an American Bittern, head straight on the entry path past the kiosk. They usually hang out in the channel that runs along the right edge of the entry path. This time of year they are signaling their presence to potential mates or rivals so you may hear one before you see one.



American bittern blending into background of reeds. Photo by Tim Fleming

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