This little fella peeking out from the reeds above, the Least Bittern, is often described as ‘reclusive, ‘solitary’ and ‘elusive’. He is the smallest of our Herons (11-14″), and quite a common permanent resident of Florida. But, the Least Bittern is often hard to find – and difficult to see clearly once you do catch a glimpse of him.The Smithsonian Handbook, Birds of Florida (2002) calls the Least Bittern “the shy secretive denizen of the marsh. Seldom seen or heard” (p.65). When they do appear, they are most likely to be noticed at the edge of an area of dense reeds, close to open water.So imagine my delight when I came across this guy. He was busily climbing in and out of the reeds, quiet as can be, often standing right out in the open, only 5-6 feet away from me!
I was lucky enough to be the only human anywhere around, and got the chance to spend about 15 minutes alone, just admiring this delicate little creature.David Sibley calls the Least Bittern “uncommon and very inconspicuous” (p.107). This one dared to be visible, but appeared to be acutely aware of his surroundings. At the sound of a larger bird overhead, he suddenly looked up, on high alert . . . . . . extending his neck in alarm posture, seemingly to get a better view of whatever might be in his territory.The Least Bittern “is reluctant to fly, relying on its cryptic color pattern to escape detection.” (Audubon Field Guide to Birds, Eastern Region, p. 366-7). They fly somewhat awkwardly, and spend most of their time hiding in dense vegetation.
What a special time I had – so fortunate to experience these moments with this delightful bird! To find out more about the Least Bittern, see these pages at All About Birds and on the Audubon website.