The Least Bittern (Ixobrychus exilis) is a small heron found throughout North and South America. Measuring about 11 inches in length, it is the smallest heron species in North America. This species typically weighs between 1.5 and 2 ounces, making it one of the lightest birds in North America.
The Least Bittern has a distinct and easily recognizable appearance. Its back and wings are a dark greenish-brown color, and its belly is white with brown streaks. It has a long neck and a short tail, and its head is proportionally large and flat. The most distinguishing field mark of the Least Bittern is its crown, which is black with a dark greenish-blue iridescence.
The Least Bittern is a migratory bird and can be found throughout much of the United States during breeding season, typically from April to September. During the non-breeding season, it will migrate to Central and South America. In the eastern United States, the Least Bittern is found in wetland habitats such as marshes, swamps, and other areas with thick vegetation. It is a secretive bird and can be difficult to spot in the wild.
During the breeding season, the Least Bittern can be seen constructing nests out of vegetation near the water’s edge. The female will lay between three and six eggs, which will hatch after around 17 days. Both parents will care for the young, which will fledge after around three weeks. The Least Bittern primarily feeds on small fish, insects, and other invertebrates, which it catches by standing still and waiting for prey to come close.
Overall, the Least Bittern is a fascinating and unique species that is easily recognizable by its appearance and call. While it can be challenging to spot in the wild, it is worth the effort for birders and nature enthusiasts alike.