Least Bittern

Least Bitterns is one of the members of the heron family. They are shy birds which are often heard than seen as they stay hidden in the marshes. They cling to the reeds with both their legs and stay motionless waiting for their prey. Least bittern were first introduced by J. F. Gmelin in the specimen from Jamaica in 1789.

Scientific Classification

Lxobrychus exilis

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Scientific Classification

Lxobrychus exilis


Least bittern is a small member of heron family. The adult male has a glossy green plumage at the back. Their wings are grayish brown with yellowish-brown at the tip. Their crown and tail is greenish-black. Their wings are buffy and flight feathers are dark. Their underbody is fully white with light brown streaks on the throat. They have a light brown face with yellow eyes and a long yellow bill. They have greenish-yellow legs with yellow feet.

Least Bittern Picture

Picture 1 – Least Bittern

The female have darker mantle and crown and duller color wings than that of the male. The juvenile have paler crown with more prominent streaks on its back and chest. The bill is dull yellow or paler pink.


Least Bittern are found abundantly in North, South and Central America. It ranges from southern Canada to Florida and west to Kansa in North America. In winters they are found in California, Panama, Columbia, Texas and Florida. Parts of Canada like Ontario, New Brunswick, southern Manitoba and Quebec.


Least Bitterns are usually seen in freshwater or brackish water marshes where there is tall vegetation with dense fringes. They also live in lakes, pools and mangroves.


Least Bittern stands motionlessly, clinging to the stem of the vegetation. Its legs wide apart and its long toes and claws which are light weigh, allows it to balance its position. It stoops its neck low with the bill almost touching the surface of the water. Once it spots its prey, it strikes them down with its pointed bill.

Least Bittern is a shy bird. They are often heard than seen, as they hide in the marshes most of the time. When approached by an intruder, they stand still with their bill pointing upright or run away, instead of taking off. In this position it is easily camouflaged and it may even sway from side to side imitating the swaying reeds. It flies short distance and goes back to the marshes. Its movement is quick and graceful. They shoot their head forward with each step.


Least bittern calls are sharp and explosive “kak-kak-kaka”. Their mating call during spring sound like a dove “uh-uh-uh-oo-oo-ooah” and the female responds with “uk-uk-uk”.


Least bittern are monogamous. They utter a particular sound during their courtship. They usually breed in freshwater marshes during early June. They construct their nest near the water body by both the adults with dried and live plants and stems. The clutch comprises of 4 to 5 eggs. The eggs are pale blue or green. The eggs are incubated by both the adults and last for 18 to 20 days. The juveniles are attended by both the adults and are left on their own after a week or two.

Photos of Least Bittern
Picture 2 – Least Bittern Photo


Least bittern mainly feed on small fishes, insects, aquatic invertebrates, and small reptiles. It strikes its prey with its long bill.


In summer, the least bittern breeds throughout eastern and central United States. They are found across southern Ontario from the Maine coast to Florida. They are found distributed in various places like Caribbean, Mexico, Dakotas and Central Texas.

Least bittern do not fly very long distance but it migrates during winter to the wetlands from Florida and Texas south towards the Caribbean and Central America.


Some of the predators of the Least Bittern include coyotes, foxes and the great horned owl.

Interesting Facts

  • Least bittern can feed in deeper water than any other herons.
  • They are shy and colonial nester.
  • They hide themselves at the marshes by holding reeds with both its legs wide apart.
  • When they are alarmed or spot an intruder, they freeze with their bill pointing upward and at times may sway from side to side like the vegetation around.
  • Least bittern and the American Bittern occupies the same wetland however has a vast difference in their breeding cycle, food preference and foraging habit.
  • Though they are not considered a strong flier, yet they migrate southwards during winters. They migrate mostly at night.


Least Bittern requires large and quiet marshes. Their population has been adversely affected by human interruption. Habitat loss due to drainage of wet areas for recreational construction, conservation of farmland or construction for urban development has lead to their population decline. Recreational boating activity of humans during the nesting period causes high waves and destroys the nest and the chicks of least bittern.


Here are some of the pictures of Least Bittern

Pictures of Least Bittern
Picture 3 – Least Bittern Picture

Images of Least Bittern
Picture 4 – Least Bittern Image

2 responses to “Least Bittern”

  1. Howard Bradley says:

    I think I’m hearing Least Bittern at a local wetland, but it starts with the typical “kuk, kuk, kuk”, but then it sounds like a duet with one bird’s call a rising “whoooop!” and the other a low cough or “uff”. The loud “whooop” followed immediately by the low “uff” for a series of 8 to a dozen repetitions: “whoop – uff, whoop – uff …….” Hard to tell if one or two birds, the sequence so close together.
    Any ideas? We’re slightly off range for lesser bittern but could be migrating.

  2. Annabelle says:

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