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The sunbittern has long legs and a slender heron-like neck with a long bill. It is approximately 45.7 cm (18 in.) in length, with a stout body and relatively small head. Its body plumage is brown with darker stripes. The head is almost all black with white striping above and below the ruby-red eyes. The sunbittern's neck, breast and shoulders are brown, while the belly, throat and undertail are white. Hidden under the brown plumage is a rich orange-chestnut patch near the tip of each wing. The lower jaw and legs are bright orange. They are not sexually dimorphic.
50-60 cm (19-24 in.) total length
Fish, amphibians, crustaceans, and insects
15 years in managed conditions
Guatemala to the Pantanal of southern Brazil/Paraguay
Heavily forested country near water
Not evenly distributed, but are locally abundant
Bitterns make nests of sticks, mud and decaying vegetable material in trees or bushes. Both parents tend to their clutch. The male and female protect and feed the chicks in turn during the first two weeks, never leaving the nest unattended. Later, the chicks are left alone for several hours each day while both parents hunt for food.
As a sunbittern spreads its wings, a patch of chestnut and orange appears on the primary wing feathers and across the tail. This display is primarily used as a threat or defense rather than courtship and is typically accompanied by a low hiss and bowing.
These birds catch their prey by striking quickly, using their long neck and spear-like bill.
As it unfolds its tail, the sunbittern shows an enormous eye-like design, which is often used to frighten predators.
Sunbitterns are not social birds, so they are often difficult to locate in the wild.
Sunbitterns are relatively quiet, but they are able to make a mechanical rattling sound.
ECOLOGY AND CONSERVATION
Sunbitterns are not currently endangered or threatened, but their populations are shrinking due to habitat loss. Because they consume a large number of aquatic animals, they play a crucial role in the population control of various aquatic systems.
Blake, Emmet R.
Manual of Neotropical Birds, Volume 1
. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, 1977.
Harrison, Dr. C.J.O.
Birds Families of the World
. Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York, NY, 1978.
Hoyo, Josep del, et. al.
Handbook of the Birds of the World, Volume 3
. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain, 1997.
Scott, Sir Peter.
The World Atlas of Birds
. Crescent Books, New York, NY, 1974.