Least Bittern Life History


Habitat MarshesFreshwater or brackish marshes with tall emergent vegetation.Back to top


Food FishSmall fish and insects.Back to top


Nest Placement

Nest Ground

Nest Description

A platform of marsh vegetation with a canopy made by pulling tall marsh plants over and crimping them in place. Placed in dense, tall stands of vegetation.

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size:2-7 eggs
Egg Description:Pale blue or green.
Condition at Hatching:Covered in down, rusty brown on back, whitish below; able to sit and hold head up only for brief periods.
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Behavior StalkingStalks along reeds, sometimes next to rather deep water, or climbs on reed stalks, and strikes downward into water with bill.Back to top


Conservation Low ConcernLeast Bittern populations are difficult to survey, but numbers appeared relatively stable between 1966 and 2015, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. However, loss of wetland habitat and the encroachment of exotic species of marsh vegetation may threaten the species. Least Bittern rate a 12 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and are not on the 2016 State of North America's Birds Watch List. The North American Waterbird Conservation Plan rates it a Species of High Concern. Back to top


Kushlan, J. A., M. J. Steinkamp, K. C. Parsons, J. Capp, M. A. Cruz, M. Coulter, I. Davidson, L. Dickson, N. Edelson, R. Elliott, R. M. Erwin, S. Hatch, S. Kress, R. Milko, S. Miller, K. Mills, R. Paul, R. Phillips, J. E. Saliva, W. Sydeman, J. Trapp, J. Wheeler and K. Wohl (2002). Waterbird conservation for the Americas: The North American waterbird conservation plan, version 1. Washington, DC, USA. 

Poole, Alan F., Peter E. Lowther, James P. Gibbs, F. A. Reid and Scott M. Melvin. 2009. Least Bittern (Ixobrychus exilis), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski, Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2017). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2015. Version 2.07.2017. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley guide to birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, USA.

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