Illinois Natural History Survey - University of Illinois

American bittern
Botaurus lentiginosus

 

Taxonomy
Occurence in Illinois
Status
Habitat associations
Guilds
Food-habits
Environmental associations
Life history
Management practices
References


TAXONOMY

 

  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Ciconiiformes
  • Family: Ardeidae
  • Genus: Botaurus
  • Species: Botaurus lentiginosus
  • Authority: Rackett

Comments on taxonomy:
Old name(s)=Botaurus minor boie *08,35*; Ardea lentiginosa montagu *32, 33,34,35*. Disagreement as to whether Rackett or Montagu was the original describer of the species. Type 3 miles southwest of Hall Pike County April 19, 1956 Illinois State Museum 603803 *02*. Other common names are stake driver and thunder pump *11,18,28,32,35*.

 


OCCURENCE IN ILLINOIS

Rare; found in northeastern and central Illinois marshes*04*.

 


STATUS

Items in bold indicate applicable categories
Forest Service Categories: S = recommended for regional sensitive status, F = forest listed species, M = management indicator species

Federal Status:

Endangered Threatened Proposed for listing
Candidate for proposal Recovery plan approved Recovery plan received (USFWS)
Recovery plan in preparation Under notice of review Delisted
Migratory EPA indicator Forest Serv.- Shawnee species

State Status:

Endangered Threatened Proposed

Other:

Game Furbearer Nongame protected
Sportfish Commercial Pest None of the above

Comments on status:
The bittern should remain on the list as its numbers do not appear to be increasing *04*.

 


HABITAT ASSOCIATIONS

Items in bold indicate applicable categories

General habitat:

Unknown Terrestrial Aquatic Riparian

USFS timber inventory forest size class:

Unknown Unstocked Seedling Sapling
Seedling/sapling Pole Mature Over mature

Land use and land cover:

Unknown   Urban Residential
Commercial
Industrial
Transportation, communication
Complex industrial/commercial
Mixed
Other
Agricultural Crop, pasture
Orchards, groves, nurseries
Feedlot
Other
Rangeland Herbaceous
Shrub and brush
Mixed
Forestland Deciduous
Evergreen
Mixed
Water Stream
Lake
Reservoir
Bay
Wetland Forest
Non-forest
Barren Salt flat
Beach
Sand
Rock
Mine
Transit
Mix

 


> Forest cover types: No records.

Associated tree species: No records.

National wetland inventory classifications:

SystemSubsystemClassSubclassWater regime modifiersWater chemistry
Palustrine   Emergent vegetation Persistent Saturated non-tidal Freshwater
Palustrine   Emergent vegetation Persistent Saturated non-tidal Circumneutral

Comments on species-habitat associations:
The land use and land cover classification system uses very general categories and gives only a very basic idea as to where a species might be found. The NWI is more specific and a bit more accurate for the bittern.

Important plant and animal association: Typha spp. (cattails), Scirpus spp. (bulrushes), and Carex spp. (sedges) are very important for nest construction and cover.

High value habitats

HabitatStructural stageSeason
Wet-mesic prairie Grass - forb Spring/summer
Wet prairie Grass - forb Spring/summer
Wet-mesic sand prairie Grass - forb Spring/summer
Wet sand prairie Grass - forb Spring/summer
Wetland Grass - forb Spring/summer
Marsh Grass - forb Spring/summer
Graminoid bog Grass - forb Spring/summer
Calcareous floating mat Grass - forb Spring/summer
Graminoid fen Grass - forb Spring/summer
Sedge meadow Grass - forb Spring/summer
Panne Grass - forb Spring/summer
Marsh restoration Grass - forb Spring/summer

Species-habitat interrelations: Illinois land and water classif. (marsh) season (spring/summer) function (breeding/feeding) value (high) prairie-marsh areas are important for bitterns' breeding and feeding. The most important aspects of this habitat are tall grasses in a wet area for feeding, nest construction and protection.

 


GUILDS

Feed-guilding:

HabitatStructural stageSeasonFeed-guilds
Marsh Grass - forb Spring/summer Water surface - Arthropods
Water surface - Invertebrates other than zooplankton or arthropods
Water surface - Fish
Water surface - Amphibians
Water surface - Reptiles
Water surface - Birds
Water surface - Mammals

Comments on feed-guilding:
Eat primarily frogs and fish but will eat just about anything of appropriate size *18,21*.

Breed-guilding:

HabitatStructural stageSeasonBreed-Guilds
Unknown high value habitat Unknown Unknown  

Comments on breed-guilding:
Breeding occurs in spring in marshy areas. Perform dramatic courtship displays *11*.

 


FOOD-HABITS

Trophic level is CARNIVORE

Food itemLife stage/plant part
Mollusca Adult
Arachnida (spiders, ticks, scorpions, daddy longlegs) Unknown
Malacostraca (isopods, amphiopods, crayfishes) Adult
Odonata (dragonflies, damselflies) Larva
Odonata (dragonflies, damselflies) Adult
Orthoptera (grasshoppers, crickets, cockroaches) Unknown
Hemiptera Unknown
Coleoptera (beetles) Unknown
Osteichthyes (bony fishes) Juvenile
Osteichthyes (bony fishes) Adult
Osteichthyes (bony fishes) Unknown
Anguilliformes (American eel) Unknown
Cypriniformes (carps, minnows, loaches) Unknown
Siluriformes (catfishes) Unknown
Atheriformes (killfishes, livebearers, silversides) Unknown
Gasterosteiformes (sticklebacks, pipefishes, seahorses) Unknown
Perciformes (basses, sunfishes, perches, sculpins) Unknown
Caudata (salamanders, newts, mudpuppies, sirens, hellbenders) Unknown
Salientia (frogs, toads) Juvenile
Salientia (frogs, toads) Adult
Serpentes (snakes) Adult
Sciuridae (squirrels, chipmunks, marmots, prairie dogs) Unknown
Geomyidae (pocket gophers) Unknown
Cricetidae (woodrats, mice, voles, lemmings, muskrats) Unknown
Fringillidae (finches) Unknown
Cardinalinae (buntings) Unknown
Important:
Osteichthyes (bony fishes) Unknown
Salientia (frogs, toads) Juvenile
Salientia (frogs, toads) Adult
Juvenile:
Osteichthyes (bony fishes) Unknown
Caudata (salamanders, newts, mudpuppies, sirens, hellbenders) Unknown
Salientia (frogs, toads) Juvenile
Salientia (frogs, toads) Adult
Adult:
Mollusca Adult
Arachnida (spiders, ticks, scorpions, daddy longlegs) Unknown
Malacostraca (isopods, amphiopods, crayfishes) Adult
Odonata (dragonflies, damselflies) Larva
Odonata (dragonflies, damselflies) Adult
Orthoptera (grasshoppers, crickets, cockroaches) Unknown
Hemiptera Unknown
Coleoptera (beetles) Unknown
Osteichthyes (bony fishes) Juvenile
Osteichthyes (bony fishes) Adult
Anguilliformes (American eel) Unknown
Cypriniformes (carps, minnows, loaches) Unknown
Siluriformes (catfishes) Unknown
Atheriformes (killfishes, livebearers, silversides) Unknown
Gasterosteiformes (sticklebacks, pipefishes, seahorses) Unknown
Perciformes (basses, sunfishes, perches, sculpins) Unknown
Caudata (salamanders, newts, mudpuppies, sirens, hellbenders) Unknown
Salientia (frogs, toads) Juvenile
Salientia (frogs, toads) Adult
Serpentes (snakes) Adult
Sciuridae (squirrels, chipmunks, marmots, prairie dogs) Unknown
Geomyidae (pocket gophers) Unknown
Cricetidae (woodrats, mice, voles, lemmings, muskrats) Unknown
Fringillidae (finches) Unknown
Cardinalinae (buntings) Unknown

Comments on food habits: 
General: Will eat almost anything of the appropriate size. Seems to prefer frogs and fish.
Juvenile: Adult feeds regurgitated food to young. Composition of food items is probably more varied than these references indicate and is again only limitated to the size of food that the young can handle.
Adult: Will eat almost anything of the appropriate size. Seems to prefer frogs and fish.


ENVIRONMENTAL ASSOCIATIONS

General:

  • Aquatic habitats: bogs
  • Aquatic habitats: sloughs, bayous
  • Aquatic habitats: prairie potholes
  • Aquatic habitats: lake weedbeds
  • Aquatic habitats: swamp
  • Aquatic habitats: marsh
  • Ecotones: grassland/water
  • Pastures: see comments
  • Grassland: see comments
  • Meadows: see comments
  • Herbs-leguminous forbs: see comments
  • Grasses: see comments
  • Vegetation successional stage: pond pioneer aquatic vegetation
  • Vegetation successional stage: stable prairie/grassland
  • Vegetation successional stage: vegetation-choked pond

Limiting:

  • Aquatic habitats: bogs
  • Aquatic habitats: sloughs, bayous
  • Aquatic habitats: prairie potholes
  • Aquatic habitats: swamp
  • Aquatic habitats: marsh
  • Ecotones: grassland/water
  • Herbs-leguminous forbs: see comments
  • Grasses: see comments
  • Vegetation successional stage: stable prairie/grassland

Egg

  • Aquatic habitats: bogs
  • Aquatic habitats: sloughs, bayous
  • Aquatic habitats: prairie potholes
  • Aquatic habitats: lake weedbeds
  • Aquatic habitats: swamp
  • Aquatic habitats: marsh
  • Ecotones: grassland/water
  • Pastures: see comments
  • Grassland: see comments
  • Meadows: see comments
  • Grasses: see comments
  • Vegetation successional stage: pond pioneer aquatic vegetation
  • Vegetation successional stage: stable prairie/grassland

Feeding juvenile:

  • Aquatic habitats: bogs
  • Aquatic habitats: sloughs, bayous
  • Aquatic habitats: prairie potholes
  • Aquatic habitats: lake weedbeds
  • Aquatic habitats: swamp
  • Aquatic habitats: marsh
  • Ecotones: grassland/water
  • Pastures: see comments
  • Grassland: see comments
  • Meadows: see comments
  • Grasses: see comments
  • Vegetation successional stage: pond pioneer aquatic vegetation
  • Vegetation successional stage: stable prairie/grassland

Feeding adult:

  • Aquatic habitats: bogs
  • Aquatic habitats: sloughs, bayous
  • Aquatic habitats: prairie potholes
  • Aquatic habitats: lake weedbeds
  • Aquatic habitats: swamp
  • Aquatic habitats: marsh
  • Ecotones: grassland/water
  • Pastures: see comments
  • Grassland: see comments
  • Meadows: see comments
  • Grasses: see comments
  • Vegetation successional stage: pond pioneer aquatic vegetation
  • Vegetation successional stage: stable prairie/grassland

Breeding adult:

  • Aquatic habitats: bogs
  • Aquatic habitats: sloughs, bayous
  • Aquatic habitats: prairie potholes
  • Aquatic habitats: lake weedbeds
  • Aquatic habitats: swamp
  • Aquatic habitats: marsh
  • Ecotones: grassland/water
  • Pastures: see comments
  • Grassland: see comments
  • Meadows: see comments
  • Grasses: see comments
  • Vegetation successional stage: pond pioneer aquatic vegetation
  • Vegetation successional stage: stable prairie/grassland
  • Vegetation successional stage: vegetation-choked pond

Comments on environmental associations:
General: Nest and feed in marsh areas. Sometimes will find nests in tall grasses*12,18*. Prefer areas of Typha spp. (cattails), Scirpus spp. (bulrush), Carexspp. (sedges) *04,09,11,13,16,17,20,24,25,26*. Have been associated with Spartina pectinata (cordgrass) *18*, Bromus inermis (bromegrass), Agropyron intermedium and A. elongatum (wheat- grasses), Medicago sativa (alfalfa), Melilotus spp. (sweet clover), Symphoricarpos occidentalis (wolfberry),Andropogon gerardi (big bluestem), Scolochloa festucacea (white top grass) *12*, Calamgrostis spp. (blue joint grass) *14*, hayfield *15*, Zizania (wild rice) *16*, Sparganium (bur-reed) *25*.
Egg: Nests are usually platforms constructed out of cattails and/or bulrush built among dense emergent aquatic vegetation over water *11, 12,18*.
Feeding juvenile: Mother feeds young until young can capture its own food. Feed in marshy areas *16,23*.
Feeding adult: Feed in marsh areas on primarily aquatic organisms *18*.
Breeding adult: Only a few reports are available of observations of American bitterns breeding. Breed in marsh areas during the spring. Female chooses nest site *18*. There is some evidence of polygamy but the minimum distance required between nests is unknown *04,12,13,18,25*.


LIFE HISTORY

Origin: Native *04*.

Physical description: Sexes similar in appearance, young not obviously different, color-brown with chestnut crown, black whisker mark, and black flight feathers *18,27,31,35*; size-wingspread to 50", weight 1-2 lbs *18*.

Reproduction: Breeding season is in the spring *04,18*; incubation is approximately 24-28 days *11,18,26*; apparently single broods *18*; lay 4-6 eggs, hatching success is high *04,11,18*; breeding behavior of the male consists of pumping, retching-like movements, and displayment of white nuptial plumes between his shoulders, male rivals will fly at each other to drive the other away *04,11,18,28, 29*.

Behavior: Males arrive in early spring from their southern wintering grounds, adopt a territory, and begin their pumping vocalizations, females arrive shortly after, their dispersion is marsh areas throughout North America *04,18*; have aerial dispersal, become stationary in marsh when foraging and lash out at prey that comes within reach *11,16,18,30*; nest in tall vegetation, usually marsh *04,09,10,11,12,13,15,16,18,20,25,26*; young cared for by female who feeds them regurgitated food, young remain in nest about 2 weeks and are cared for outside of nest for an unknown period, age at first flight is also unknown *11,16,18,26*.

Limiting factors: Habitat - prairie marsh *04,12*.

Population parameters: Relative trend in Illinois and over a significant part of its range is a decline in numbers *04,12*; mortality rates, sex ratio, and average lifespan are unknown. Marsh habitat is very important for adults and young. Male pumping vocalizations are very distinctive, hence nickname "stakedriver". Partially due to their secretive and solitary nature, very little research has been done on the American bittern in the last 30 years, although many parts of their life history are unknown.

 


MANAGEMENT PRACTICES

Beneficial:

  • Maintaining undisturbed/undeveloped areas
  • Maintaining early stage of ecological succession
  • Maintaining natural areas and nature preserves
  • Maintaining unique or special habitat features (wetlands, snags, caves, cliffs, talises, etc.
  • Preserving endangered species habitat
  • Improving habitat on adjacent areas to increase carrying capacity
  • Performing special survey prior to prescription
  • Controlling land use and human activities
  • Seasonal restriction of human use of habitats
  • Creating artificial islands or rafts
  • Creating/maintaining islands within permanent impoundments
  • Developing/maintaining wetlands
  • Creating/maintaining wetlands from non-wetlands
  • Protecting existing wetlands
  • Burning of wetlands to maintain successional stages
  • Restoration of wetlands (return flooded or drained areas to previous wetland conditions)
  • Controlled grazing of domestic livestock
  • Fencing out cattle, sheep, horses, or other livestock
  • Creating/maintaining grass waterways
  • Seeding aquatic plants
  • Periodically burning prairie areas
  • Develop/maintain prairie
  • Prohibiting hunting
  • Controlling undesirable vertebrate species (feral dogs, etc.)
  • Providing protection from predators
  • Restricting human disturbance during migration, breeding, and nesting
  • Fencing nesting cover to prevent grazing by livestock
  • Estimating/maintaining nesting and escape cover

Adverse:

  • Locating, designing, developing, and constructing roads
  • Providing public access (develop roads, trails, parking areas or provide legal access)
  • Drawdown of ponds/lakes
  • Draining wetlands
  • Haying/mowing
  • Uncontrolled grazing by domestic livestock

Existing:

  • Performing field survey prior to prescription
  • Protecting existing wetlands
  • Prohibiting hunting

Comments on management practices:
The primary need for the American bittern is a marsh habitat or dense tall grass near water for nesting. Management in Illinois consists of recommending that marshes not be drained for proposed projects in the state. As American bitterns are difficult to find it is difficult to have any more specific management practices. If any nests should be found, human access should be restricted from the area.


REFERENCES

0. SHERRI SANDBERG. 607 E. PEABODY CHAMPAIGN. 333-6846. ILLINOIS NATURAL HISTORY SURVEY.

1. RACKETT. 1813. IN PULTNEY, CATALOG BIRDS, SHELLS, ..., AND PLANTS DORSETSHIRE, ED. 2. PIDDLETON PARISH, DORSETSHIRE, ENGLAND. P.14.

2. BOHLEN, H. D. 1978. AN ANNOTATED CHECK LIST OF THE BIRDS OF ILLINOIS. ILLINOIS STATE MUS. POP. SCI. SER. 9:1-156.

3. STATE OF ILLINOIS ADMINISTRATIVE CODE. 1982. TITLE 17 CHAPT. 1 CONSERVATION. SUBCHAPT. C ENDANGERED SPECIES. PART 1010 ILLINOIS LIST OF ENDANGERED AND THREATENED VERTEBRATE SPECIES.

4. GRABER, J. W., R. R. GRABER, AND E. L. KIRK. 1978. ILLINOIS BIRDS: CICONIIFORMES. ILLINOIS NATURAL HISTORY SURVEY BIOLOGICAL NOTES. 109:1-80.

5. KLEEN, V. M. 1979/1980. FIELD NOTES:BREEDING SEASON. ILLINOIS AUD. BULL. 191:27.

6. KLEEN, V. M. 1980/1981. FIELD NOTES:BREEDING SEASON. ILLINOIS AUD. BULL. 195:36.

7. SMITH, H. R. AND P.W. PARMALEE. 1955. A DISTRIBUTIONAL CHECK LIST OF THE BIRDS OF ILLINOIS. ILLINOIS STATE MUS. POP. SCI. SER. 4:1-62.

8. WOODRUFF, F. M. 1907. THE BIRDS OF THE CHICAGO AREA. CHICAGO ACAD. SCI. NAT. HIST. SURV. BULL. 6:1-221.

9. MURCHISON, A. C. 1893. THE AMERICAN AND LEAST BITTERNS IN HENRY COUNTY, ILLINOIS. OOLOGIST 10(9):247-249.

10. LARSEN, J. 1893. COLLECTING IN CHICAGO. OOLOGIST 10(2):42-44.

11. BENT, A. C. 1926. LIFE HISTORIES OF NORTH AMERICAN MARSH BIRDS. BULL. U. S. NATL. MUS. 135:1-490.

12. DUEBBERG, H. F. AND J. T. LOKEMOEN. 1977. UPLAND NESTING OF AMERICAN BITTERNS, MARSH HAWKS, AND SHORT-EARED OWLS. PRAIRIE NAT. 9(3/4):34-40.

13. BENNETT, E. V. 1953. NESTING BIRDS OF THE SHORELINE AND ISLANDS OF CRAB ORCHARD LAKE WITH PARTICULAR REFERENCE TO THE CANADA GOOSE, BRANTA CANADENSIS L. AND THE EASTERN RED WING, AGELAUIS PHOENICEUS L. M.S. THESIS SOUTHERN ILLINOIS UNIV. CARBONDALE. 45 PP.

14. BEECHER, W. J. 1937. MEADOWS, MARSH, AND OAK HICKORY ISLAND. BIRD LORE 39(5):374-375.

15. GABRIELSON, I. N. 1914. BREEDING BIRDS OF A CLAY COUNTY IOWA FARM. WILSON BULL. 26(2):69-81.

16. GABRIELSON, I. N. 1914. TEN DAYS BIRD STUDY IN A NEBRASKA SWAMP. WILSON BULL. 26(2):51-68.

17. BEECHER, W. J. 1942. NESTING BIRDS AND THE VEGETATION SUBSTRATE. CHICAGO ORNITH. SOC. CHICAGO. 69 PP.

18. PALMER, R. S. 1962. HANDBOOK OF NORTH AMERICAN BIRDS. V. 1. YALE UNIV. PRESS. NEW HAVEN AND LONDON. 567 PP.

19. GAULT, B. T. 1901. JUNE AND JULY BIRD LIFE AT GLEN ELLYN (NEAR CHICAGO), ILLINOIS. BIRD LORE 3(3):102-104.

20. EATON, D. H. 1879. NEST AND EGGS OF THE AMERICAN BITTERN (BOTAURUS MINOR). ORNITH. OOL. 4(10):73-74.

21. COTTAM C. AND F. M. UHLER. 1945. BIRDS IN RELATION TO FISHES. U.S. FISH WILD. SERV. WILD. LEAF. 272:1-16.

22. LATHAM, R. 1971. NOTES ON THE FOOD OF THE AMERICAN BITTERN. ENGELHARDTIA 4(4):43.

23. BYERS, E. 1951. FEEDING BEHAVIOR OF YOUNG AMERICAN BITTERNS. WILSON BULL. 63(4):334-336.

24. NELSON, E. W. 1876-1877. BIRDS OF NORTH-EASTERN ILLINOIS. ESSEX INST. BULL. 8(9-12):90-155.

25. PROVOST, M. W. 1947. NESTING OF BIRDS IN THE MARSHES OF NORTHWEST IOWA. AM. MID. NAT. 38(2):485-503.

26. MOUSLEY, H. 1939. HOME LIFE OF THE AMERICAN BITTERN. WILSON, BULL. 51(2):83-85.

27. ROBBINS, C. S. B. BRUUN, H. S. ZIM. 1966. A GUIDE TO FIELD IDENTIFICATION BIRDS OF NORTH AMERCA. WESTERN PUBL. CO. RACINE, WISCONSIN. 340 PP.

28. BREWSTER, W. 1911. CONCERNING THE NUPTIAL PLUMES WORN BY CERTAIN BITTERNS, AND THE MANNER IN WHICH THEY ARE DISPLAYED. AUK 28(1): 90-100.

29. JOHNSGARD, P. A. 1980. COPULATORY BEHAVIOR OF THE AMERICAN BITTERN. AUK 97(4):868-869.

30. KUSHLAN, J. A. 1976. FEEDING BEHAVIOR OF NORTH AMERICAN HERONS. AUK 93(1):86-94.

31. PETERSON, R. T. 1947. A FIELD GUIDE TO THE BIRDS. EASTERN LAND AND WATER BIRDS. HOUGHTON MIFFLIN CO. BOSTON. 230 PP.

32. HANCOCK, J. AND H. ELLIOTT. 1978. THE HERONS OF THE WORLD. HARPER & ROW. NEW YORK. 304 PP.

33. MONTAGU. 1813. ARDEA LENTIGINOSA MONTAGU. SUPPL. ORNITH. DICT. PIDDLETON, DORSETSHIRE, ENGLAND.

34. PETERS, J. L. 1931. CHECK-LIST OF BIRDS OF THE WORLD. VOL. 1. HARVARD UNIV. PRESS. CAMBRIDGE. 345 PP.

35. RIDGWAY, R. 1895. THE ORNITHOLOGY OF ILLINOIS DESCRIPTIVE CATALOGUE. VOL. 2. NAT. HIST. SURV. ILLINOIS STATE LAB. NAT. HIST. 282 PP.

36. SWEET, M. 1982. IL. DEPT. OF CONSERV. PERSONAL COMMMUNICATION.

 

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