Eurypyga – Sunbittern

Cryptic birds with ‘eyes’ on their wings

A unique and singular bird species representing its family, Eurypygidae. With its range extending from the tropical forests of Mexico down through Central America to Brazil, the Sunbittern graces wooded wetlands and streamside forests with its presence.

The Sunbittern stands at approximately 45 cm (18 inches) in length and is equipped with an array of physical features that enable it to thrive in its habitat. It possesses a large, straight beak suited for a generalist diet, a long, slender neck that aids in foraging in shallow waters, a pointed tail that provides stability during flight, and medium-length legs that are well-adapted for wading.

The plumage of the Sunbittern is a masterpiece of camouflage. Its mottled brown, tan, and black feathers allow it to blend seamlessly into the dappled light of its forested surroundings. This cryptic coloration is essential for avoiding predators and quietly stalking prey along the water’s edge.

However, it is the Sunbittern’s wings that carry its most striking feature: large, brilliantly colored eyespots, which resemble the eyes of a much larger creature when displayed. These eyespots are typically concealed, but when the bird fans its wings, the startling pattern emerges. This is believed to be a defense mechanism used to startle predators and buy the birds time to escape. The same dramatic wing display plays a crucial role in courtship, signaling to potential mates the fitness and vitality of the individual.

The diet of the Sunbittern is varied and includes amphibians, fish, crabs, and insects, which it hunts with stealth and precision. Its hunting technique may involve standing still and waiting for prey to come within reach or actively pursuing prey in shallow waters.

The breeding behavior of the Sunbittern is as distinctive as its appearance. It builds a well-concealed nest near water, often in a tree or a bush, where it lays two spotted eggs. Both parents participate in incubating the eggs and feeding the chicks.