Stumbling across Sun Bitterns…


The family Eurypygidae has only one species: the sun bittern. A rail-like bird with a head and neck reminiscent of a heron, the sun bittern’s lineage doesn’t quite fit where one thinks it should. Based on genetic evidence, it has its own order, Eurypygiformes, which it shares with another lone species family, the Rhynochetidae of New Caledonia. I learned this order in my undergraduate ornithology class, long before I knew that I was going to have a research career centered on birds. For some reason the idea of having an entire family for just one species made an impression, and I remember thinking how cool it would be to actually see a sun bittern someday.

sun bittern That day came two weeks ago, as I was walking down the Sendero Tres Rios at La Selva Biological Station. Our faculty led project was returning from setting up an experiment when we encountered a couple of guides aiming large camera lenses into a tree just beside the trail. The object of their interest was sitting serenely on nest on a horizontal branch, undisturbed by our presence. My immediate reaction of “SUN BITTERN!” and mental review of half-remembered lecture slides was confirmed by the guides, and I forthwith began to snap photos. The fulfillment of an idle sophomore year wish in a lowland tropical rainforest in Costa Rica as I start my PhD was an excellent reminder that I am incredibly lucky to be here and unbelievably excited for what the future holds.


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