The Rufescent Tiger-Heron is one of several beautiful and iconic herons of the Neotropics. At 68 cm tall, this fairly large heron has a bittern-like appearance, with a wide neck, heavy bill and short stubby tail. It is distinguished from the other species of tiger-herons by its rich rufous-chestnut head and neck with very fine barring near the body and a conspicuous white stripe from the throat to belly, gray-brown back and wings with fine vermiculations, buffy-brown belly and vent, and barred white-and-black flanks. Males and females are alike. Immatures are heavily barred with black and buff showing a “checkerboard pattern”, especially on the lower neck, back and wings. Immature Rufescent Tiger-Herons and immature Fasciated Tiger-Herons, their close relative, are almost identical, and habitat is the best way to distinguish the young birds (the latter is more common along moving streams in the foothills). Adult plumage is attained at 4 or 5 years of age.
The Rufescent Tiger-Heron is generally solitary and inconspicuous. It spends most of its time staying very still and is a patient predator—standing and waiting until an unsuspecting prey comes close when it will lash out its long neck and grab its prey with its powerful, spear-like bill. Its prey consists of aquatic animals—fish, crustaceans, arthropods—and it is often seen catching its favorite food, freshwater eels. It gives a low hooting call, a pair of notes, often at night.
Rufescent Tiger-Herons are found in forested streams, lake edges and wetlands such as ponds, swamps and marshes. They are found in the lowlands up to 550 m elevation. The Rufescent Tiger-Heron ranges from Honduras to northern Argentina, and in Panama is found along the entire Caribbean Slope as well as the Pacific Slope in eastern Panama. Although considered uncommon to rare throughout most of its range, the Rufescent Tiger-Heron is fairly common around the Canopy Tower and Canopy Camp, seen regularly along Pipeline Road and the Canal Area.