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Least Bittern Ixobrychus exilis


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Least Bittern, male
credit: USGS

© Lang Elliot/ (audio)

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Family: Ardeidae, Herons, Egrets, Bitterns view all from this family

Description ADULT MALE Mainly yellow-buff, palest on underparts, with buff stripes on throat and breast. Cap and back are blackish, latter contrasting with pale buff panel on wings (striking in flight when dark flight feathers are obvious). Has yellow legs and facial skin (this turns pink at height of breeding season), and dull yellow bill with dark culmen. ADULT FEMALE Similar to male, but black elements of plumage are dark brown. JUVENILE Similar to female, but cap and back are gray-buff.

Dimensions Length: 11-14" (28-36 cm)

Habitat Locally common summer visitor (present mainly May-Aug) to cattail swamps, but easily overlooked. Most migrate south of region for winter, but a few linger in south.

Observation Tips Presence is easiest to detect by recognizing male's song. Patient observation may then yield a brief view, perhaps of a flying bird.

Range Southeast, Florida, Northwest, Plains, Southwest, Eastern Canada, Texas, Great Lakes, Mid-Atlantic, New England, Rocky Mountains, Western Canada, California

Voice Utters a quacking alarm call. Singing male utters a short succession of cooing notes.

Discussion A tiny, well-marked heron whose unobtrusive habits and largely inaccessible favored habitats make it fairly hard to observe. Sometimes seen climbing up a tall cattail stem or more typically observed briefly in flight, flying low over marsh vegetation with rapid wingbeats. If alarmed, "freezes" with body, neck, and head elongated and pointing vertically. Feeds on fish and small freshwater invertebrates. Sexes are dissimilar.