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Least Bittern

Silhouette HeronsHerons
Least BitternIxobrychus exilis
  • ORDER: Pelecaniformes
  • FAMILY: Ardeidae

Basic Description

The furtive Least Bittern is often little more than a voice in the reeds that is frustratingly difficult to locate. But these diminutive herons reward patience and will charm birders persistent enough to discover them in their wetland haunts. They’re smartly clad in chestnut, buff, and black, with the male more richly colored than the female. Although drainage and development of wetlands has reduced their populations, Least Bitterns persist over much of their historical range, and are most readily seen during the breeding season.

More ID Info
image of range map for Least Bittern
Range map provided by Birds of the World
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Find This Bird

Plan a dawn outing in May or June to a freshwater or brackish marsh, one with dense, tall vegetation like cattail or other reeds. Look for open-water areas—edges where the birds often hunt (and can be more easily seen). Walk slowly and pause to listen for the rapid, quiet coo-coo-coo-coo song of males. You might also see the birds as they fly from roosting to foraging sites, or returning to the nest with food. Not a morning person? Try watching in the same areas around dusk, when there is another peak of activity.

Other Names

  • Avetorillo Americano (Spanish)
  • Petit Blongios (French)

Backyard Tips

Least Bitterns won’t come to bird feeders—but a small self-made wetland in your yard can store, filter, and clean runoff water from your roof and yard and provide habitat for insects, amphibians, and birds, possibly including a shy migrating bittern.

  • Cool Facts