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Eurypyga helias

Description: The Sunbittern is named for its wing markings, an orange-chestnut shield set in an orange-buff circle, which looks like a setting sun. The rest of the plumage is barred, striped and mottled in black, white, brown, gray and olive. The long legs are bright orange. The bill and neck are also long and slender. When their wings and tails are folded, Sunbitterns blend into their environment.

Size: Adults grow to be 19-24 inches (50-60 cm) in length and weigh 6-7.5 ounces (171-214 gr).

Behavior: Although they are sometimes seen in pairs, Sunbitterns are usually solitary birds. When they are found in pairs, it is usually a breeding pair. Sunbitterns are known for their defensive posture, which they use to frighten away potential predators. In this position, the wings are opened, revealing the sunburst pattern for which they get their name. Adults also perform a “broken wing” display, in which one wing is dragged along the ground as if broken. This is done to keep predators from the vulnerable chicks in the nest by distracting them with what appears to be an injured, helpless adult. They hunt by walking slowly in shallow water, looking for and following prey with their necks pulled back. To catch their food, they quickly jab and spear their prey with their long bills. Sunbitterns have the unusual habit of washing their food before eating it, particularly when they are feeding their young.

Diet: Their diet is very diverse, including vertebrates, such as small fish, tadpoles, eels and
frogs, as well as invertebrates, such as insects, spiders, earthworms and larvae.

Communication: The Sunbittern’s call is a high, ringing whistle, which is sung out mostly in the morning; when threatened it will exhibit a “rattle” vocalization. They also sing “duets” as part of their courtship ritual.

Reproduction: Nests are made of leaves, roots, moss and mud. The average clutch size is one or two eggs, which are incubated for around 30 days. The eggs are pink in color, with purplish-brown spots. Both sexes participate in building the nest, incubating the eggs, and caring for the young once hatched. The young are ready to leave the nest approximately 30 days after hatching.

Habitat/range: Sunbitterns prefer forested habitats near permanent water sources. They are found from Guatemala to the Pantanal of southern Brazil/Paraguay.

Status: Listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.