Opinion Column

BIRDWATCH: Rare Least Bittern spotted in the area by columnist himself

Ken Hooles

By Ken Hooles, Daily Observer

Getty images
A Least Bittern, seen here in the Viera wetlands near Florida, was recently spotted in the area by Ken and Pat Hooles.

Getty images A Least Bittern, seen here in the Viera wetlands near Florida, was recently spotted in the area by Ken and Pat Hooles.


The third rare bird for this year and for this spring was located by Pat and myself. On the evening of May 28, we spotted a Least Bittern sitting among some weeds in the swamp near the bridge on Stafford Third Line. Last year, an unconfirmed pair was sighted by Wendall Mclaughlin in a pond on his property off Beachburg Road. Prior to this, the last Least Bittern sighted in our area was in August when one was located by Melissa Lessard on the Snake River Line.

These birds are normally found only as far north as southern Ontario. However, over the last 10 years, with global change, we have had the occasional sighting of these birds in our area. It could well be that these small Bitterns are gradually extending their range into Renfrew County, much like the Cardinal and Sandhill Crane.

Unfortunately, this story has a sad ending. Two days later, I went searching for this bird, only to find it dead by the roadside.

The Least Bittern (Ixobrychus exilis) is only 11 to 14 inches long, unlike its cousin, the American Bittern, which is 16 to 22 inches long and is much more common. The Least Bittern is our smallest heron-like wader found in Canada.

It is a bird that likes to frequent fresh marshes and reedy ponds. It is very secretive and does not flush easily when disturbed. Often it is only seen in flight or sitting on a patch of reeds. It normally feeds, like most heron-like birds, on frogs, crawfish, snakes, small fish and insects. It does all its hunting in bogs or marshes.

This bird is coloured in broad masses of cream and an off-colour red. It usually has a brown or black back and cap, depending on the sex of the bird. It has a long, pinkish-yellow bill, a white chin and dull yellow legs.

The Least Bittern is monogamous and does not breed in colonies. It generally builds its nest over water. The nest is usually built on a platform of dead rushes in a marsh or reed patch.

This Bittern has one to two broods per year. The eggs of the Least Bittern are incubated by both parents for 17 to 20 days. The young remain in the nest for another 25 days and are fed by both sexes.

The Least Bittern is primarily located in eastern North America. As previously stated, it ranges as far north as southern Ontario and Quebec. In the west, it has been found in small numbers only in the province of Manitoba. In the fall, this bird migrates to southern Florida and parts of Mexico.

This was only my third sighting of this bird. I saw several in a marsh near Long Point, Ont. and one up close in some reeds on Lake Tarpon in Florida. It is indeed a rare bird!

Elsewhere on the local scene, with the arrival of the Bank Swallows, Cedar Waxwings, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Grasshopper and Field Sparrows, Alder Flycatcher and Black-billed Cuckoo, the spring migration comes to an end. Interestingly, I have not heard of any reports of Common Nighthawks yet. The shorebird migration that operates on a different clock has also ended, several birds such as the Robins, Eastern Phoebe, Mallards and Blue Jays have had their first brood and some of the Morning Doves have started their second brood. The bird activity is now concentrating on breeding, nesting and raising young. It has been an interesting spring with the sighting of three rare birds so far. These included the Dickcissel, the Red-necked Phalarope and the Least Bittern. Keep an eye out; there may be more around!

The next Pembroke Area Field Naturalist event is the 29th lake Dore Butterfly Count. It will be held on Thursday, June 30, at 9 a.m. In the event of rain or wind, it is rescheduled for Friday, July 1. Mark this in your calendar. More information will be provided next week before the event.

On June 11, Al Gutz of Green Lake Road found a Veery in his yard. Of the four members of the Thrush family that visit our area, this is our most common. Nice sighting, Al!

Recently, I have received some excellent photos by John Meadows of several birds that John has observed on his trip to the East Coast. These include Bald Eagles, Common Loons and an excellent photo of a Common Eider. The Eiders are only located in the oceans!

Finally, Jack Schreader of Pembroke informed me that he has Mourning Dove nesting on his property and that this is the second brood. They are quite prolific.

Please call me with your bird sightings at 613-735-4430 or email me at hooles@bell.net. For more information on nature and upcoming nature events, ‘Google’ the Pembroke Area Field Naturalists’ website.

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