Distribution and Habitat
Sunbitterns are found in tropical areas close to water, ranging from Guatemala to northern Brazil. They are found in the Amazon and Orinoco basins and Central America.
Sunbitterns frequent the well-wooded banks of streams and creeks with shallow wading water. They can be found at elevations up to 3,000 feet.
Sunbitterns are named for their wing markings, an orange-chestnut shield set in an orange-buff circle, which looks like a setting sun. The rest of their plumage is intricately barred, striped and mottled in black, white, brown, gray and olive. They measure 18 to 21 inches in length. They rarely fly; instead they walk slowly upon long, bright orange legs, holding their long snakelike necks parallel to the ground. Their heads are almost all black with white striping above and below their ruby-red eyes. Their size, coloration and decoration do not differ between males, females or even juveniles.
Sunbitterns are very seldom seen in groups, only solitary pairs.
When excited they will go into an elaborate dance, with their wings and tail spread out in a defensive manner. The wing and tail spread reveals large patches of chestnut and orange that look like large “eyes” on the primary wing feathers, and bands of the same color across the tail.
Sunbitterns are unmistakable and so unique that they are placed in their own family.