Bittern, a fen fowl, of the order grallatores or waders, family ardeidce, which also includes the herons, old genus ardea (Linn.). There are in Europe several species of this bird, which resembles the heron. The most common, the English bittern (botaurus stellaris, Steph.), is famous for the peculiar nocturnal booming sound which it emits in the deep watery morasses of which it is an inhabitant, to which sound it owes several of its names, as the bog-bumper, mire - drum, etc. In the United States there are three species: A. minor or botaurus lentiginosus (Steph.), corresponding to the European bittern, 26 1/2 inches long, and of a brownish yellow color; the green bittern or green heron (A. [butorides] vires-cens), 15 inches long, very common in inland streams and mill ponds, a beautiful bird, but commonly known by a vulgar and indelicate nickname; and the least bittern (ardetta exilis), an extremely small and beautifully marked bird. All the bitterns are handsome birds, with long necks, which they hold proudly erect; fine, pendulous, but erectile crests; a long fringe of feathers on the neck, mottled with yellow, brown, and black, like tortoise shell; and all their upper parts variegated with black, brown, rust color, yellow, and white, like those of the woodcock.
Their long legs are bare far above the knee, to enable them to wade into deep water, in pursuit of their fishy and reptile prey. They have clear, penetrating eyes, with a fearless look, which well expresses their bold and self-reliant character. If wounded or broken-winged, they will fight bravely with their sharp-pointed bills, striking at the eyes either of men or dogs, to the latter of which they are formidable antagonists. Their voice is a harsh qua-ak; their flight slow and heavy, with their long legs outstretched behind. Their habits are nocturnal; their haunts fresh-water pools, stagnant rivers, and morasses; they build, like the heron, in trees, ordinarily raising two young ones. Their food is small fish, lizards, frogs, and frog spawn, of which they are voracious consumers. They are good eating in September, when the first frosts are commencing, and are eaten roasted, with currant jelly and stuffing, like the hare, which they somewhat resemble.
English Bittern (Botaurus stellaris).
Green Bittern or Green Heron (Butorides virescens).
Small Bittern (Ardetta exilis).