Posts Tagged: American Bittern

Dinner Time at the Horicon Marsh

Forster's Tern at the Horicon Marsh

Forster’s Tern

This Forster’s Tern expected to be waited on for dinner.  She stayed perched on the post and made no attempt to dive for fish.  Forster’s Terns look similar to Common Terns.  Forster’s Terns have longer tail feathers than wing feathers.  They have a large orange bill with a black tip, light gray feathers on their back, and white underparts.  Common terns have shorter tail feathers than wing feathers, gray bodies that blend in with their gray backs, and reddish orange bills with black tips.

Forster's Tern at the Horicon Marsh

I said I want fish and I want it now!

Instead of working for her dinner, she started calling.  She quickly became more insistent, much like chicks do when they are begging for food.

Forster's Terns at the Horicon Marsh

Courtship Feeding

Her valiant knight in shining feathers flew in with the gift of a fish.

Forster's Terns at the Horicon Marsh

Look what I brought you honey!

This courtship feeding often occurs after the pair bond has formed.  In terns, either sex may feed the other, but it is usually triggered by the female, according to the book Bird: The Definitive Visual Guide by Audubon.

Forster's Terns at the Horicon Marsh

A Perfect Hand Off

She gratefully accepts the fish and swallows it whole. The ritual was repeated until her appetite was satisfied.  It was a successful dinner date that strengthened their bond.

American Bittern at the Horicon Marsh

American Bittern

Another bird having dinner on the south side of Highway 49 at the Horicon Marsh was the American Bittern.  His color pattern, especially the streaks on his neck, are effective camouflage.  He stood very still, stretched his neck upward, and looked up to blend in with the vertical reeds.

American Bittern at the Horicon Marsh

Ready to Eat

He stretched his neck horizontally when he was getting ready to eat.

American Bittern at the Horicon Marsh

It only took a split second to pluck an unsuspecting fish from the water.  He tossed it with his bill a couple of times before swallowing it whole.

Double-crested Cormorant at the Horicon Marsh

Double-crested Cormorant

The Double-crested Cormorant dives underwater until he is totally submerged.  He also likes to eat fish.  He can hold his breath for more than a minute.  His blue eyes are stunning and unexpected.

Muddy Duck at the Horicon Marsh

Muddy Duck

This muddy duck is also a diver, which is no surprise by looking at him.

Ruddy Duck at the Horicon Marsh

Ruddy Duck

Here he is all cleaned up.  His real name is Ruddy Duck.  He dives for aquatic plants, insects, and crustaceans.  It was a treat to watch the birds eating at the Horicon Marsh buffet.

Home Sweet Home

Would you rather live in a high rise condo, a house built over the water, or camp on the ground gazing at the stars overhead?  It is amazing that birds use such a variety of locations and construction methods to build their homes.

Barn Swallows at the Horicon Marsh

Barn Swallows

Barn Swallow homes are like high rise condos for birds.  They like to build their nests out of mud high on a building.  You may see them on barn beams or above outdoor light fixtures on homes. Barn Swallows gather mud pellets in their beaks.  They add their saliva to the pellet and carry it to their nesting site. Barn Swallows vibrate their heads as they apply a new wet pellet to the drier structure.  This distributes moisture and molds the new pellet onto the nest in progress.  They may use up to 1,500 pellets to build their cup shaped nest.  Adding grass contributes to the durability of the nest.[1]  After multiple trips to get a beak full of mud, I’m sure they work up an appetite.  One of their favorite foods is aerial insects.

Juvelnile Forester's Tern at the Horicon Marsh

Juvenile Forster’s Tern

Another bird that enjoys aerial insects is the Forster’s Tern.  They also plunge-dive for fish to eat.   Their nest is nothing more than a shallow depression in the ground.  The lack of construction leaves them more time to go fishing.

American Bittern at the Horicon Marsh

American Bittern

The American Bittern builds its nest piling up cattails and sticks making a thick platform a few inches above the water.  Nests are 10 to 16 inches across and may rest on a small mound on the ground.[2]  Bitterns usually stand among the cattails with their beaks pointed in the air so they blend in to the vegetation.  I almost drove right by this one.  When he was ready for dinner, he started looking at the water and swayed his head side to side.  Was he trying to lull his dinner into thinking life was good in the marsh muck?  Then, with lightning speed, he plunged his head in the water and plucked a frog from the mud.

If you disturb a bird’s home, you will ruffle his feathers.

Juvenile Forster's Tern at the Horicon Marsh

He will not be happy with you.

Barn Swallows at the Horicon Marsh

Whether it’s high, low, or somewhere in between respect a bird’s nest wherever you find one. It’s their home sweet home.


[1] Peter Goodfellow, Avian Architecture (Princeton and Oxford:  Princeton University Press, 2011), 84.

[2] John Eastman, Birds of Lake, Pond and Marsh:  Water and Wetland Birds of Eastern North America (Mechanicsburg, PA:  Stackpole Books, 1999), 211.