Birds – The Sun-bitterns

Coming again to South America, we have another group of remarkable Crane-like birds known as the Sun-Bitterns. They are small birds, about eighteen or twenty inches long, “something between a Rail and a Heron” in appearance, with rather short legs, a very thin neck, and a rather large head with a long, sharp-pointed bill. The wings are broad and ample and the tail relatively long and composed of twelve feathers. Of the peculiar structural features we may only mention that the breast-bone has a notch on each side, the oil-gland is generally naked, and numerous powder-down patches are scattered on various parts of the body. The skull shows a number of points of agreement with that of the Kagu. The plumage of the Sun-Bitterns is soft, the general color above being brown, variously barred and “variegated with black, brown, chestnut, bay, buff, gray, and white — so mottled, speckled, and belted either in wave-like or zigzag forms as somewhat to resemble certain moths.” The upper mandible is black, and the lower one waxy yellow, while the iris is red and the legs and feet yellow. Two species are known, one (Eurypyga helias) found in Guiana and the interior of Brazil, and the other similar but slightly larger species (E. major) in Central America and Colombia. Comparatively little is known of their habits in a wild state beyond the fact that they frequent the muddy and wooded banks of great rivers, especially the Orinoco, where they may be seen singly or in pairs sunning themselves and spreading out the beautiful plumage. They take rather kindly to captivity and are often to be seen in zoological gardens, and on several occasions have made a nest and reared heir young. The nest appears to be placed low down in trees and the eggs, so far as known, are two in number, grayish in color and blotched and spotted with reddish, quite after the manner of the eggs of certain Plovers and Snipes. The food of the Sun-Bitterns consists largely of flies and other insects, which they secure by rapidly darting out the long neck.