Things aren't always what they sound like.

Education   Jul 8, 2021 by Sandra Al-Samman

I have long been an admirer of animals. I have had them as pets; learned about them in university; started a career revolving around them; and recently have been photographing them. Ever go into a greenspace and hear the call of an unfamiliar bird? Do you get the same burning desire to learn its identity and get a glimpse of it? Being an amateur bird photographer, I get that feeling quite often. 

Funnily enough, the call of one of the rarest wild birds I have seen did not elicit that reaction. Why, you wonder? Well, it didn't sound like a bird at all! Here, you have a listen to this odd sound and see for yourself.

After wondering what kind of malfunctioning watering equipment Colony Farm Park was using, I located the source of the sound. Here is a that very same bird:

I couldn't leave the place without pictures of the handsome fellow: 

So, what is that?

American Bittern is the common name of this weird bird.  Botaurus lentiginosus  is the fancy name I can never remember.

After working at Golden Ears during a placement with BC Parks Foundation and discovering it is home to this species, I starting looking past the name and into habitat and biology. 

The dripping stalactite sound is made by inflating the esophagus with air then unleashing the stored air with sharp head bobs. It is blue listed on BC's Provincial list of species at risk due to habitat loss. It lives mainly in large marshes and wetlands: structures that are often filled in due to human development. It eats a variety of organisms such as insects, amphibians, crayfish, crabs, garter snakes, small fish, and rodents. Vole seems to be a favorite. Notice the different shades of brown stripes along its neck? When it feels like it may be in danger, it stretches its long neck, points its beak to the sky, and prays it looks like the reeds it lives amongst. It does a pretty decent job when it's in the middle of a thicket of brown reeds. 

American bittern, photo by USFWS Mountain-Prairie

If I didn't know any better, I'd say it lets out a stressed sigh after the danger passes: I know I would. 

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4 Comment(s)

Zana Mody
Jul 19, 2021

This is amazing Sandra! I had no idea we even had American bitterns in BC! :O

Erin Christensen
Jul 12, 2021

Thank you for sharing, Sandra! This is really a fascinating and informative story, and the photos are excellent to top it off! Well written and well done.

Sandra Al-Samman
Jul 14, 2021

I appreciate the feedback, Erin! I'm glad you enjoyed it :)

Samantha Wilde
Jul 12, 2021

Sandra, this is AMAZING! You are an excellent writer, but more than that, you are a great storyteller. Your piece brings us into your world and then takes us on a journey where we learn not only about the bittern's day-to-day life, but also how that life is threatened. You make the bittern MATTER to your reader, which is a vital skill in science communication.

Thank you for sharing this with us! I hope you might share it with others someday as well. :)

Sandra Al-Samman
Jul 14, 2021

I am ecstatic that you enjoyed it so much. Your feedback is as brilliant as you are (which is a lot, folks!)

Cayley Elcombe
Jul 9, 2021

This is so interesting - I will definitely be listening for the American Bittern from now on! Thanks for sharing Sandra :)

Sandra Al-Samman
Jul 14, 2021

You're very welcome. Let me know if you hear one! I'd love to expand my picture collection ;) 

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