Sunbittern Sunbittern

Scientific Classification

Common Name
Genus Species
Eurypyga helias

Fast Facts

The sunbittern has long legs and a slender neck with a long bill. It has 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 red eyes. The neck, breast and shoulders are brown, while the belly, throat and ventral tail feathers 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.
50 to 60 cm (19 to 24 in.) total length
171 to 214 grams (6 to 7.5 ounces)
Fish, amphibians, crustaceans, and insects
2 to 28 days
Clutch Size
2 to 3 eggs
Sexual Maturity
1 year; males and females are not sexually dimorphic.
Life Span
15 years in managed conditions
This species has an extremely large range and can be found in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Venezuela, and Bolivia.
Heavily forested country near water
Global: Partners in Flight estimate the total population to number 500,000 to 4,999,999 individuals; the population is decreasing but not severely fragmented.
IUCN: Least concern
CITES: No data
USFWS: No data

Fun Facts

Sunbitterns 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. This species is expected to lose 18-20% of the suitable habitat within its distribution over three generations based on a model of Amazonian deforestation.


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.

BirdLife International. 2016. Eurypyga helias. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T22691893A93327452. Downloaded on 26 November 2018