Least Bittern

Ixobrychus exilis
Range Map

The Least Bittern is the smallest heron in the world. Other contenders for “wee-ness” are the Black-Backed Bittern of Australia and New Guinea, Africa’s Dwarf Bittern, and northern South America’s Stripe-Backed Bittern.

During the breeding season, there are only a few locations in USA’s western coastal states where these herons move north to breed, but they are wide ranging in the east during the summer months. In winter, the North American birds migrate as far south as Central America. Few places in the USA host Least Bitterns year-round. Southern California, the Texas Gulf, and Florida are such places.

Able to squeeze its body through passages as small as an inch and a half, these birds can move unnoticed through dense reeds. The Least Bittern’s “pumping” calls often will betray its presence long before we will see it.

There remains much unknown about Least Bitterns in South America. Today, there are five widely recognised subspecies:

  • I. e. exilis lives in North America, Central America and the Caribbean
  • I. e. pullus lives in northwestern Mexico
  • I. e. erythromelas lives in eastern Panama and the east coast of South America and south to Paraguay
  • I. e. bogotensis lives in Colombia
  • I. e. peruvianus lives in Peru

I first met the Least Bittern at the Salton Sea in December 2010. During my visit to Texas in 2021, a nesting pair put on a show for those of us visiting South Padre Island at the Laguna Madre Nature Trail.

24 Photos

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