Least Bittern

photo by Phil Swanson

Ixobrychus exilis
L 13″ (33 cm) W 17″ (43 cm).

Song or calls:
Listen (NGPC audio)

Gives fast series of low, throaty “coos;” also cackles and tick

Description: Adult male has black crown and back; chestnut hindneck; yellow-buff below, with white streaking down middle from chin to vent; slender yellow legs and bill. Adult female similar, but with chestnut-brown back and blackish-brown crown; fine streaking below. Juvenile similar to adult female, but throat and breast have broader brown streaks and crown is chestnut-brown.

Bird Map
Habitat: Associated with freshwater or slightly brackish marshes or lake edges having extensive stands of emergent vegetation.

Where in Nebraska: Uncommon regular spring migrant in the eastern portion of the state. Uncommon regular breeder in eastern half of state, rare elsewhere. A rare regular fall migrant in the east.

Nebraska Seasons: Least Bitterns are most observable in mid to late June when adults are regularly flying over marshes feeding young.

Field Notes: Secretive, thin-bodied heron that often climbs in reeds. Number of sightings are speculated to be associated with seasonal moisture levels.

Fun Facts: 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

Least Bittern - photo by Phil Swanson
(click image for larger view)