Sunbittern Fact File


The sunbittern is a medium sized bird with a long neck. Their body is covered with brown feathers with darker cross bars. The feathers on the head are black with a white stripe that runs along the top and bottom of the eye. Their eye is colored red. Along the underside, on the throat and the primary feathers are white.

Extending from the head is a long bill that is black on top and orange on the bottom. They have a pair of long legs ending with three toes. The legs are coloured orange.

If they are threatened they will extend the wings and these are coloured chestnut on the underside which resembles an eye and can help scare predators away.

They measure 43-48cm (17-19in) long and weigh 200g (7oz).


The sunbittern is a carnivore. Their diet is made up of a range of spiders, insects, small reptiles, amphibians, fish and eels. They may forage on land or in the water.

Prey is stalked in a slow and deliberate manner before being

stabbed with the long beak to capture it.


Scientific Name

Eurypyga helias

Conservation Status

Least Concern


200g (7oz)


43-48cm (17-19in)


Average 15 years

Record 33 years



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Sunbitterns are found in the Americas. Here they can be found throughout Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela.


They make their home in foothills, forests, wetlands, lowlands and on the banks of streams and creeks.


The beginning of the breeding season for the sunbittern will vary between March and May depending on where across their range they can be found. They will raise one clutch per season, typically a second clutch will only be raised if the first fails.

They form a nest from sticks, mud and decaying material. The nest may then be lined with leaves and mud. In to this nest they deposit two to three eggs which are light brown and blotched with spots of darker colour. Both parents are involved in incubation and care for the young. Incubation lasts 28 days.

For the first two weeks of the chicks life a parent is present at all times to feed and protect the chicks. After this the parents will leave them for a short period while they hunt.

If a predator attacks the chicks the parents will aim to protect them. One of the ways they do this is by pretending they have a broken wing and distracting the predator.

Fledging will take place between 28 and 30 days after hatching. After fledging they will still rely on their parents for food for a further 2 months.

Sexual maturity is reached at a year old.



Sunbitterns will spend time together in pairs of travel singularly.

Their call is a long whistle and this can often be heard at dawn and dusk.

They have soft plumage and this allows them to fly almost silently.

Predators and Threats

They face predation from monkeys who steal their eggs and birds of prey which can harass them when attempting to incubate their eggs.

Humans main effect on the population of sunbitterns is habitat loss through deforestation.

When threatened by predators the sunbittern will spread its wings. This reveals a pattern which looks like eyes and may scare predators away.

Quick facts

The sunbittern is the only member of its family, Eurypygidae.

Photo Credits


Ryan Somma ( / CC BY-SA (


H. Zell / CC BY-SA (


Burnie, D., 2011. Animal. 3rd ed. London: DK

Smithsonian's National Zoo. 2020. Sunbittern. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 12 July 2020]. 2020. Sunbittern - Ebird. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 12 July 2020]. 2020. Sunbittern Facts And Information | Seaworld Parks & Entertainment. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 12 July 2020].

BirdLife International. 2016. Eurypyga helias. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2016: e.T22691893A93327452. Downloaded on 11 July 2020.

Bouglouan, N., 2020. Sunbittern. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 12 July 2020].

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