LEAST BITTERN (Ixobrychus exilis) – (See images below)
DESCRIPTION: The Least Bittern adult male has a shiny dark green head cap and back, with two thin white stripes on each side of back. Wings and neck are chestnut. Throat and breast have white and beige vertical stripes. Undersides are white. Eyes are yellow. Bill is brown on top, yellowish under. Legs and feet are yellowish. Female is brown on top. Juvenile is similar to female. Bird length is about 30 cm (12 inches). There are five subspecies.
VOICE: https://www.xeno-canto.org/species/Ixobrychus-exilis
NAME: ‘Bittern’ refers to the ‘bull-like’ call of the breeding male. Latin genus name ‘Ixobrychus’ stems from a confusion of Greek words and literally would mean something like ‘reed-like plant’ and ‘to gnash the teeth’ (Helm). Latin species name ‘exilis’ means ‘small’.
HABITAT: Freshwater wetlands (marshes, ponds).
DIET: Insects, small fish and reptiles, amphibians. Instead of wading through water, this bittern climbs on aquatic plant stems and ‘navigates’ through them when foraging.
NESTING: Nest is built by bending down marsh vegetation to form a platform, and adding plant material on top. From three to six light blue-green eggs are laid, incubated by both parents, who also both feed the chicks.
DISTRIBUTION: Main breeding range is located in the eastern half of USA. Winters in the Caribbean and South America (Brazil), joining a year-round resident population.
Distribution Map: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Least_bittern – /media/File:Ixobrychus_exilis_map.svg
ON PEI: Does not breed on Prince Edward Island, sightings listed as ‘accidental’ so far, in the summer. See note below on bird vagrancy.
CONSERVATION: The least bittern is considered a ‘threatened’ species by Ontario.
NOTES: Bitterns are known for their camouflage-patterned plumage. This species however adds another strategy to foil potential predators – it will also sway to make it look like vegetation blown by the wind.
Vagrancy: In biology this means an animal going way outside its normal range. For birds, this can happen when there are storms and they get blown off course. On other times, the bird simply wanders in a different direction than usual. Here’s an article about vagrancy in birds.
SIMILAR SPECIES: American Bittern, Green Heron
REFERENCES: http://identify.whatbird.com/obj/34/overview/Least_Bittern.aspx https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/least-bittern (Missouri Department of Conservation)
https://www.tn.gov/twra/wildlife/birds/waterbirds/least-bittern.html (Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency)
https://www.mba-aom.ca/jsp/toc.jsp (Maritimes Breeding Bird Atlas)
https://guides.nynhp.org/least-bittern/ (New York Natural Heritage Program)
http://fieldguide.mt.gov/speciesDetail.aspx?elcode=ABNGA02010 (Montana Field Guide)
https://txtbba.tamu.edu/species-accounts/least-bittern/ (Texas Breeding Bird Atlas)
https://birdatlas.mb.ca/accounts/speciesaccount.jsp?sp=LEBI&lang=en (Manitoba Breeding Bird Atlas)

Least Bittern – Mar. 2017 – photo by Gareth Rasberry
Least bittern, by Gareth Rasberry, 2007
Least bittern, by Caleb Putnam
Least Bittern – South Padre Island, TX – Mar. 2017 – photo by Tony Castro
Least bittern, TX, Tony Castro
Least Bittern male – Great Meadows NWR, MA – June 2015 – photo by Steve Arena, USFWS
Least bittern male, Steve Arena, USFWS