There are some animals that can easily scare the daylights out of you. The Predatory Hawaiian Caterpillar, being one, for example. But, there are also plenty of animals that, well… don’t. The American Bittern is one of the latter; a very unassuming bird that has all the scare-appeal of a newborn lamb wearing booties and a rain coat. It gets to be about 2 1/2 ft long with a wingspan of 3 ft and only weighs around a pound. It doesn’t have the ability to inject cyanide directly into your veins, dismember you piece by piece, or suck your eyes out with its tongue. In fact, it can’t really do much of anything to ward off predators other than pretend it doesn’t exist at all. So to do just that, the Bittern uses its streaked plumage as camouflage, blending in perfectly with the reeds that carpet its North American wetland environment. To sweeten its “look-ma-I’m-a-reed” effect, the bittern will even fully extend its neck and begin to sway back and forth, making it appear almost identical to reeds blowing in the breeze.

Its camouflage is so top notch that Bird Watch Daily even wrote up a guide on how to spot these birds. When professional birdwatchers can’t even find this guy, you know it’s doing something right. I’m guessing they’re pretty bitter over the whole bittern thing… badoom chhhhh.

camouflaged bittern, american bittern

photo: Lisa Lawley via Flickr

Really the only way to track these masters of disguise down (other than luring them out with classic “free candy!” maneuver) is to listen for their unmistakable mating call which sounds like oog-ka-chuk; or a giant leaky faucet dripping, in my opinion. Their booming voices can be heard from half a mile away and provide the only real clue as to where one of these elusive creatures may be hiding. It’s also called “plumper lunking” by birders:

Just be careful you don’t stumble across some bittern chicks. No, not because you’ll get the “reed of death” posture from the mother, but because these babies aren’t exactly the most adorable of youngins…

american bittern chick


They’ll even vomit up their last meal to deter you from coming very close. Warning – bird vomit ahead:

God bless America!