The smallest member of the
bittern family is about 14 inches long and has a
wingspan of about 18 inches.
One of most camouglaged members
of its family, the least bittern is generally
buff on the underside and brown on the upperside,
with a white chin, throat, foreneck, and belly.
Its most conspicuous features are large
buff-to-chestnut-colored wing patches. The bill
is thin and yellow, as is the iris of the eye. It
has short legs that are green on the front and
yellow behind, short outer toes, and long, curved
toenails that allow it grasp onto vegetation.
Both sexes are similar in size, but the female's
back is purple-chestnut in color while the male
has an almost black back. Juvenile coloration is
similar to that of females, but the crown is
paler and brown and the breast and throat have
The least bittern lives in
dense, weedy marshes and sloughs.
It summers throughout most of
the eastern United States, and in scattered
locations in the West, and winters in the extreme
southern United States, through Mexico and
Central America into parts of South America. It
migrates south from late August through
September, and returns from early April to late
May, depending on latitude.
The least bittern feeds
primarily on small fish and large insects, along
with some crustaceans, amphibians, small rodents,
and small snakes.
Mating occurs in June and July.
There appears to be some competition between
males for mates, but the extent of that
competition is not known.
The nest is a mall platform of
drief plant material located on sturdy vegetation
8-14 inches above the water.
The 2-7 pale blue or greenish
eggs hatch in about 20 days.
Habits and Behaviors
A very secretive bird, a least
bittern will not come out of hiding even if
disturbed. When alarmed it freezes, with its neck
taut and bill pointed straight up,
Although a member of the
"wading birds order," the least bittern
prefers to use its long toes to walk around on
the vegetation just above the water's surface and
is seldom seen walking in the water itself.
Least bitterns have a varied
repertoire of calls.
genus & species Ixobrychus exilis
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