Even if you have never seen this shy hermit of large swamps and marshy meadows you must know him by his remarkable “barbaric yawp.” Not a muscle does this brown and blackish and buff freckled fellow move as he stands waiting for prey to come within striking distance of what appears to be a dead stump. Sometimes he stands with his head drawn in until it rests on his back; or, he may hold his head erect and pointed upward when he looks like a sharp snag. While he meditates pleasantly on the flavour of a coming dinner, he suddenly snaps and gulps, filling his lungs with air, then loudly bellows forth the most unmusical bird cry you are ever likely to hear.
You may recognise it across the marsh half a mile away or more. A nauseated child would go through no more convulsive gestures than this happy hermit makes every time he lifts up his voice to call, pump-er-lunk, pump-er-hmk, pump-er-lunk. Still another noise has earned him one of his many popular names because it sounds like a stake being driven into the mud.
A booming bittern I know sits hour after hour, almost every day in summer, year after year, on a dark, decaying pile of an old dock in the creek. Our canoe glides over the water so silently it rarely disturbs him. The timid bird relies on his protective colouring to conceal him in so exposed a place and profits by his fearlessness in broad daylight next to an excellent feeding ground.
At low tide he walks about sedately on the muddy flats treading out a dinner. Kingfishers rattle up and down the creek, cackling rails hide in the sedges behind it, red-winged blackbirds flute above the phalanxes of rushes on its banks: but the bittern makes more noise, especially toward evening, than all the other inhabitants of the swampy meadows except the frogs, whose voices he forever silences when he can. Frogs, legs and all, are his favourite delicacy.
Text: Birds Every Child Should Know by Neltje Blanchan
Author of “Bird Neighbours,” “Birds that Hunt and Are Hunted,”
“Nature’s Garden,” and “How to Attract the Birds.”
NEW YORK GROSSET & DUNLAP
1907 by Doubleday, Page & Company
Title American Bittern
Creator Zahm, Gary
Description American Bittern
Subject Birds, Wading birds
Publisher U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Contributors DIVISION OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS
Source NCTC Image Library
Rights Public domain
Date created 2008-04-18