A few days ago during a visit to Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, I sat and watch an American Bitter catch and eat a vole.
That act in itself is not all that amazing, but what was interesting is the reaction this bittern made after eating the rodent.
The American Bittern caught the vole and fumbled around with it briefly in its beak while it maneuvered into a position where it could eventually swallow it. The bittern even dropped the vole once but was able to catch it again immediately. Eventually, the bittern tossed the vole into the air, caught it and swallowed it whole, while the vole was still alive.
As the bittern swallowed the vole I could see it wiggling and struggling as it made its way down the throat. Shortly afterwards, the American Bittern appeared to stagger briefly, then it spread its wings and stretched its neck and shuttered several times like when something gives us the shivers. With its wings still spread and neck still outstretched the bittern pranced around a bit before settling down.
I don’t have a lot of experience watching American Bittern’s, but I have never seen a bittern act in this fashion. I called several of my bird watching friends who have spent many more hours watching American Bittern’s and no one has seen one act like this before either.
Now, it may be a very natural action for a bittern to stretch and move in this manner and I have just not had the fortune to see it before. But I can’t help wonder if this bittern should have killed the vole before it swallowed. The vole may very well have been swimming around in the stomach for a bit before eventually dying in the digestive system. Nature can be quite cruel at times…