Sunbittern

The sole member of its entire family and the closest living relative to the Kagu

Brent Moore

With its cryptic plumage and solitary nature, it is a unique and intriguing bird native to the tropical regions of the Americas. With three known subspecies, it populates a wide range of territories, stretching from Guatemala in Central America all the way down to the southern reaches of Brazil in South America.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the Sunbittern is its evolutionary relationship with the Kagu of New Caledonia. These two species share remarkable morphological and molecular traits despite the vast geographic distance separating them. This connection suggests a lineage that dates back to the supercontinent Gondwana, indicating that their ancestors were once part of a widespread group before the continents drifted apart.

The Sunbittern’s common name is derived from the dazzling wing patterns it sports. When its wings are spread, they reveal a striking design reminiscent of a radiant sun. This pattern features an orange-chestnut shield set against an orange-buff backdrop, evoking the image of the sun dipping below the horizon. This dramatic display is not merely for show; it serves as a deterrent to predators, confusing them long enough for the Sunbittern to escape. When the bird’s wings and tail are folded, its plumage transforms into a masterclass of camouflage. The intricate barred, striped, and mottled patterns in shades of black, white, brown, grey, and olive blend effortlessly with the dappled sunlight of its riparian forest habitat.

The Sunbittern’s long, spindly legs, which are a vivid orange, and its slender neck and bill are perfectly adapted to its lifestyle. These features allow it to wade into shallow waters, where it meticulously hunts for small fish, amphibians, crustaceans, and insects. Despite its name and appearance, the Sunbittern does not share a close relationship with the true bitterns of the heron family but has carved out a similar ecological niche.

Distribution

Country
Population est.
Status
Year
Comments
Bolivia
2019
Brazil
2019
Colombia
2019
Costa Rica
2019
Ecuador
2019
French Guiana
2019
Guatemala
2019
Guyana
2019
Honduras
2019
Mexico
2019
Nicaragua
2019
Panama
2019
Peru
2019
Suriname
2019
Venezuela
2019

Anything we've missed?

Help us improve this page by suggesting edits. Glory never dies!

Suggest an edit

Get to know me

Terrestrial / Aquatic

Altricial / Precocial

Polygamous / Monogamous

Dimorphic (size) / Monomorphic

Active: Diurnal / Nocturnal

Social behavior: Solitary / Pack / Herd

Diet: Carnivore / Herbivore / Omnivore / Piscivorous / Insectivore

Migratory: Yes / No

Domesticated: Yes / No

Dangerous: Yes / No