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American bittern
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Pelecaniformes
Family: Ardeidae
Subfamily: Botaurinae
Reichenbach, 1850

Bitterns are birds belonging to the subfamily Botaurinae of the heron family Ardeidae. Bitterns tend to be shorter-necked and more secretive than other members of the family. They were called hæferblæte and various iterations of raredumla in Old English; the word "bittern" came to English from Old French butor, itself from Gallo-Roman butitaurus, a compound of Latin būtiō (buzzard) and taurus (bull).[1]

Bitterns usually frequent reed beds and similar marshy areas and feed on amphibians, reptiles, insects, and fish.

Bitterns, like herons, egrets, and pelicans, fly with their necks retracted, unlike the cranes, storks, ibises and spoonbills, which fly with necks extended and outstretched.


There are currently 14 species divided into three genera within Botaurinae:

Image Genus Living species
Ixobrychus Billberg, 1828
Botaurus Stephens, 1819
Zebrilus Bonaparte, 1855


  1. ^ Joseph P. Pickett; et al., eds. (2000). "Bittern". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Archived from the original on 2005-01-16. Retrieved 2006-07-04.