sunbittern, common name for a graceful, stout-bodied, bitternlike bird, Eurypyga helias. It 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 its plumage is intricately barred, striped, and mottled in black, white, brown, gray, and olive. Measuring from 18 to 21 in. (46–53 cm) in length, sunbitterns rarely fly, but, rather, walk slowly upon long, bright orange legs, holding their snakelike necks parallel to the ground. Found singly or in pairs, they are native to the thick, tropical jungles and swamps of Central and South America. They are silent creatures and use their long and straight, sharply pointed bills to spear their diet of insects and small fish. They build a grass and mud nest either on the ground or in low trees, in which the female lays her two oval-shaped, buffy or clay-colored eggs. Both sexes share in nest building, incubation, and the care of their highly precocious young. When excited, the sunbittern goes into a most elaborate dance, with wings and tail spread out in a defensive posture. Sunbitterns are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Aves, order Gruiformes, family Eurypygidae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.