Green Pages

An Unexpected Landing

Least bittern is a new bird record for TCI.

By B Naqqi Manco, DECR Terrestrial Ecologist

Islands are a challenge to reach for many animals, but not for most birds. While we have a known resident avifauna, we are also visited by both migrants, which visit seasonally, and vagrants, which visit occasionally.

A black back and primary feathers, white shoulder stripe, chestnut face and wings, and brown-streaked throat along with small size help identify the Least Bittern, Ixobrychus exilis.

Sometimes birds are lost, or blown here by storms, such as the three groups of scaly-naped pigeons that showed up after the 2017 hurricanes (and have since, apparently, returned to their homes on the Greater Antilles). Other times, they are exploring new ranges and expanding, such as the increased numbers of purple gallinules noted over the last decade. Some, especially the shyest species, probably visit and are never seen by any human. Recently, one very shy bird showed up on North Caicos, a navigational mistake on its behalf, having landed inside a home in Sandy Point.
On August 19, 2018, North Caicos residents David Kennedy and Patti Salerno DesLauriers encountered what was first thought to be a green heron caught in a screened porch. However, after review of photos it was confirmed to be a least bittern Ixobrychus exilis, a regionally native but rare bird related to herons. Bitterns are exceptionally shy and rarely seen in the region.
This is the first-ever confirmed sighting of a least bittern in TCI. Terrestrial Ecologist B Naqqi Manco registered the sighting with and it was confirmed as a new sighting on that database.
The bird recovered and was released back into its habitat near the Dick Hill Creek and Bellefield Landing Pond Nature Reserve, one of our less-known but important protected areas. The habitat of this protected area is perfect for least bitterns, with expansive areas of mangrove, buttonwood swamp and uninterrupted cattail marshes. This secretive little wading bird will be hard to see again but devoted birdwatchers may be able to encounter it around where it was first sighted.
Keep your eyes out for new bird sightings. With effects of human development expansion and climate change considered, we will likely be seeing more new bird arrivals and unusual migration schedules. You can register all bird sightings on
Available as a mobile app, eBird is, according to its website, “the world’s largest biodiversity-related citizen science project, with more than 100 million bird sightings contributed each year by eBirders around the world. A collaborative enterprise with hundreds of partner organizations, thousands of regional experts and hundreds of thousands of users, eBird is managed by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.”

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