You'll need sharp eyes to catch sight of an American Bittern. This streaky, brown and buff heron can materialize among the reeds, and disappear as quickly, especially when striking a concealment pose with neck stretched and bill pointed skyward. These stealthy carnivores stand motionless amid tall marsh vegetation, or patiently stalk fish, frogs, and insects. They are at their most noticeable in spring, when the marshes resound with their odd booming calls that sounds like the gulps of a thirsty giant.
American Bitterns are heard more often than seen. Their booming, clacking, gulping calls have earned them some colorful nicknames, including "stake-driver," "thunder-pumper," "water-belcher," and "mire-drum."
When field scientists want to trap American Bitterns for study, they take advantage of the males' aggressive territoriality. Knowing that the birds will respond to other males' calls from as far as 1,600 feet away, or to the image of another male, the researchers use recorded calls and mirrors to draw the birds in.
The American Bittern's yellow eyes can focus downward, giving the bird's face a comically startled, cross-eyed appearance. This visual orientation presumably enhances the bird's ability to spot and capture prey. The eyes turn orange during breeding season.
Photographed in Anahuac NWR
From a distance, the Green Heron is a dark, stocky bird hunched on slender yellow legs at the water’s edge, often hidden behind a tangle of leaves. Seen up close, it is a striking bird with a velvet-green back, rich chestnut body, and a dark cap often raised into a short crest. These small herons crouch patiently to surprise fish with a snatch of their daggerlike bill. They sometimes lure in fish using small items such as twigs or insects as bait.
The Green Heron is part of a complex of small herons that sometimes are considered one species. When lumped, they are called Green-backed Heron. When split, they are the Green Heron, the widespread Striated Heron, and the Galapagos Heron.
The Green Heron is one of the world’s few tool-using bird species. It often creates fishing lures with bread crusts, insects, and feathers, dropping them on the surface of the water to entice small fish.
Green Herons usually hunt by wading in shallow water, but occasionally they dive for deep-water prey and need to swim back to shore—probably with help from the webs between their middle and outer toes. One juvenile heron was seen swimming gracefully for more than 60 feet, sitting upright “like a little swan,” according to one observer.
Like many herons, the Green Heron tends to wander outside of its breeding range after the nesting season is over. Most of the wanderers stay nearby as they search for good feeding habitat, but some travel long distances. Individuals have turned up as far away as England and France.
Photographed in Anahuac NWR
The Tricolored Heron is a sleek and slender heron adorned in blue-gray, lavender, and white. The white stripe down the middle of its sinuous neck and its white belly set it apart from other dark herons. This fairly small heron wades through coastal waters in search of small fish, often running and stopping with quick turns and starts, as if dancing in a ballet. It builds stick nests in trees and shrubs, often in colonies with other wading birds. It’s common in southern saltmarshes and was once known as the Louisiana Heron.
Tricolored Herons sometimes follow behind Double-crested Cormorants or Pied-billed Grebes snapping up fish that they stir up.
Angsty teenagers aren't just a human phenomenon. As Tricolored Herons get older they often lunge and snap at their parents when they arrive at the nest with food. To appease the youngsters, parents greet them with bows.