Scientific Name: Eurypyga helias
The sun-bittern is cryptically colored (camouflaged) except for a bright sunspot pattern on each wing that is seen in courtship and threat displays.
The sun bittern resembles a “horizontal heron,” with a similar body shape and a long, sharp beak.
STATUS: The sun bittern is listed as Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
HABITAT: It is an aquatic bird that lives along the wooded banks of rivers, streams, and ponds in the rainforests and swamps of Central and South America.
DIET: The sun-bittern eats small fish, frogs, insects, and crustaceans. It hunts while wading in shallow water, using its long, sharp beak to catch its prey.
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: The sun bittern’s total body length is about 17 inches. Its body is brown and heavily barred with black, making it hard to see in the wooded habitat in which it lives. The head is black with white stripes above and below the eye. The most striking feature is the brilliant orange and black “eyespots” which can be seen when the bird spreads its wings.
These birds live in mated pairs in territories staked out along the banks of streams or ponds. They spend most of their time on the ground, but they build large, domed nests of mud and sticks in trees during the breeding season. The female usually lays two or three blotched brown eggs, which are incubated by both parents. The incubation period is about 28 days; the hatchlings are precocial (require little care) but remain in the nest for long time before venturing into the world.
The relationship of sun bitterns to other bird species is uncertain. They are currently classified in the order containing cranes and rails (Gruiformes) on the basis of their resemblance to herons, but they are the only members of their family (Eurypygidae) and their genus. They produce powder down (a type of feather that breaks down into a powder that the birds use to groom their other feathers) for preening as do herons, but some DNA tests show that they may be more closely related to hummingbirds.