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Juvenile Least Bitterns Foraging

The Least Bittern is the smallest member of the heron family, measuring 11-14 inches in length with a 16-18 inch wingspan.  It is so secretive and well camouflaged that it is heard far more often than seen. A soft cooing song is sung by the males in spring, and a variety of calls are given on their breeding grounds. (You can hear both types of vocalizations at

This elusive bird of freshwater and brackish marshes is foraging for itself soon after it leaves its nest at two weeks of age.  Long agile toes and curved claws enable the Least Bittern to climb and grasp reeds while it looks for frogs, snakes, salamanders, leeches and other prey from on high.

Like its relative the American Bittern, the Least Bittern freezes in place when alarmed, with its bill pointing up, turns both eyes toward the source of alarm, and sometimes sways to resemble windblown marsh vegetation. (A few wisps of white down still remain on young Least Bitterns at this time of year, as is evident in photo.)

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5 responses

  1. Bill On The Hill

    Mary… In all my travels I don’t recall seeing this most elusive bird in my travels, nor have I encountered a green heron yet.
    Thanks for incl. a link to this bird’s various sounds!
    Next time I’m out paddling I will be sure to keep my eyes & ears tuned in better!
    All the best,
    Bill… :~)

    August 12, 2019 at 7:53 am

  2. Mary, I hope I am coming to New England this fall, where can I buy your book down there? Shipping to Canada is crazy, so I hope to get while down there.

    August 12, 2019 at 7:55 am

    • Depending on where you are going, many independent bookstores carry it, or will order it for you if you ask them to. Does Amazon deliver to Canada? It’s there, as well. Or I could mail you a copy.

      August 12, 2019 at 9:25 am

  3. Alice

    When I saw the picture, I thought: that resembles a Green Heron, not knowing it is the smallest member of the Herons. Another well adapted bird.

    August 12, 2019 at 8:36 am

  4. sallyratcliffe70

    Thank you for this post. I was biking next to the Otter Creek wetlands when I heard then saw these birds. It was a first and I was mystified and enchanted. It was late Spring so I think it lines up even though I didn’t have field glasses

    August 12, 2019 at 6:38 pm

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