Birds Of Southern California

Least Bittern (Ixobrychus exilis]

The Least Bittern might be one the most difficult marsh species to locate especially from a visual aspect. Along with Sora's, Virgina Rails and Ridgway's Rails they are usually well camouflaged. You'd probably have better luck hearing the Least Bittern vs. seeing one. Not that it's impossible of course, just challenging. Typically early morning or late afternoon might offer better opportunities. During this past breeding season I was fortunate enough to capture the photos in this section and also obtain voice recordings. The voice recordings can be hear at and also Here's more from Wikipedia on the Least Bittern: The least bittern is an elusive bird. They spend much time straddling reeds. When alarmed, the least bittern freezes in place with its bill pointing up, turns its front and both eyes toward the source of alarm, and sometimes sways to resemble wind-blown marsh vegetation. This is perhaps a predator-avoidance behaviour, since its small size makes the bittern vulnerable to many potential predators. Thanks to its habit of perching among the reeds, the least bittern can feed from the surface of water that would be too deep for the wading strategy of other herons. The least bittern and much larger and different-looking American bittern often occupy the same wetlands, but may have relatively little interaction because of differences in foraging habits, preferred prey, and timing of breeding cycles. The least bittern arrives on its breeding grounds about a month after the American bittern, and leaves one or two months earlier. John James Audubon noted that a young captive least bittern was able to walk with ease between two books standing 4 cm (1.6 in) apart. When dead, the bird's body measured 5.7 cm (2.2 in) across, indicating that it could compress its breadth to an extraordinary degree. These birds nest in large marshes with dense vegetation from southern Canada to northern Argentina. The nest is a well-concealed platform built from cattails and other marsh vegetation. The female lays four or five eggs, in extreme cases from two to seven. The eggs are pale blue or green. Both parents feed the young by regurgitating food. A second brood is often produced in a season. These birds migrate from the northern parts of their range in winter for the southernmost coasts of the United States and areas further south, travelling at night. They mainly eat fish, frogs, crustaceans and insects, which they capture with quick jabs of their bill while climbing through marsh plants. The numbers of these birds have declined in some areas due to loss of habitat. They are still fairly common, but are more often heard than seen. They prefer to escape on foot and hide than to take flight. These birds make cooing and clucking sounds, usually in early morning or near dusk.