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Least Bittern Ixobrychus exilis

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The summary below is an overview from The Birds of North America Online.

BNA Account Authors: Gibbs, J. P., F. A. Reid, S. M. Melvin, Alan F. Poole, and Peter Lowther

The Least Bittern is one of the smallest and least frequently encountered herons in the neotropics. Within suitable habitats, however, it is often neither shy nor rare. This colorful heron is quite vocal and can be found at surprisingly high densities¿up to 15 nests per hectare in North America. Suitable habitats include fresh and brackish water marshes with tall, dense emergent vegetation and clumps of woody plants over deep water. Least Bitterns forage by stalking along the open-water side of emergent vegetation, grasping clumps of plants with their long toes and curved claws. They also build small foraging platforms at rich feeding sites, catching fast-moving prey, mainly small fish and insects, with their small, thin bills. An extremely narrow body permits this bittern to pass easily through tangled vegetation. Their nest, an elevated platform with an overhead canopy, is built of emergent aquatic vegetation and sticks. Males and females appear to help equally in rearing the young. When encountered, Least Bitterns typically burrow like rodents through dense vegetation, fly away weakly over marsh vegetation with legs dangling, or "freeze" with their bill pointed upward, feathers compressed, and eyes directed forward.

Five similar subspecies are distributed throughout much of the Americas. Populations north of areas with prolonged frosts are migratory; others seem to be resident. Basic research on the Least Bittern's nesting biology, movements, population dynamics, and biology particularly in the neotropics would help to clarify the status of the species and facilitate its conservation.

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© Gregory Budney

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  • Year-round
  • Migration
  • Breeding
  • Non-Breeding

Recommended Citation

Least Bittern (Ixobrychus exilis), In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: https://neotropical.birds.cornell.edu/Species-Account/nb/species/leabit