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 www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Least_Bittern/sounds.)
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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