Least Bittern

Least Bittern (Ixobrychus exilis)

Least Bitterns are the smallest herons in the Americas and pretty hard to find in the reeds, but you may hear them first.

They are shades of brown and white, with a dark cap and dark top to their yellow bill. They have long toes and claws, which they use to grip the reeds.

Adult females and juveniles are similar to males but with lighter backs and crowns.

  • Ixobrychus exilis
  • Length: 11 – 14 in (28 – 36 cm)
  • Weight: 3 oz (85 g)
  • Wingspan: 16 – 18 in (41 – 46 cm)


Little Bitterns’ usual range is Europe and Africa, but they occasionally stray into North America.

Habitat And Diet

You can find Least Bitterns in dense freshwater and brackish marshlands with many tall cattails and reeds. Look for them as they perch on reeds.

When they sense danger, they will immediately freeze up, raise their bills to the sky, and sway in time with the reeds. 

Least Bitterns’ diet includes small fish, frogs, tadpoles, salamanders, slugs, dragonflies, aquatic bugs, and sometimes, mice. They position themselves on the reeds, sometimes performing acrobatic contortions just to reach their prey on the surface of the water.

Least Bittern Calls:


Nests of Least Bitterns are well-concealed platforms built by the female from cattails and marsh vegetation. She lays up to seven eggs, and both parents incubate them for about twenty days. Then, they feed newly-hatched chicks by regurgitating food.

Fun Fact:

Least Bitterns have long necks but usually stay in a hunchbacked position.