The diet of the little bittern varies with season and location, but usually comprises mostly insects, such as crickets, grasshoppers, caterpillars, beetles, and aquatic insects and larvae. The little bittern will also eat spiders, worms, crustaceans, molluscs, and small vertebrates such as fish, frogs and tadpoles, small reptiles, and birds and their eggs (2) (3) (7). This species is usually most active around dawn and dusk (2) (3) (4), but it will also feed at night, and in some areas during the middle of the day (2) (3). Individuals feed alone, stalking prey while walking slowly along the water’s edge or across vegetation, or hunting from a perch with the head and neck withdrawn (2) (3) (7). When it spots potential prey, the little bittern extends its neck and strikes with the beak (3) (7). This species has a particularly swift flight for a heron, with rapid, shallow wing beats, and it often flies with the legs dangling (3) (4).
In Europe and Asia, the little bittern breeds between May and July, while populations in Australia breed from October to January, and those in South Africa from June to February. In tropical parts of Africa, breeding usually occurs during or just after the rainy season (2) (3). Pairs generally nest alone, or sometimes in small, loose groups, usually in thick vegetation near open water, or sometimes in trees or bushes (2) (3). Early in the breeding season, the male establishes a breeding territory and advertises his presence with a barking call (3). The male also builds the nest, which is a platform of plant stems, reeds and twigs with a conical base, and is lined with finer stems and leaves (2) (3). The nest may be reused in consecutive years (3). The little bittern lays between 2 and 9 eggs (although clutch size varies with location), and the eggs are incubated by both adults, hatching after 16 to 21 days (2) (3) (7). Although the chicks may hatch a couple of days apart, late hatching chicks do not appear to lag behind earlier-hatched ones in terms of growth or survival (7). The young grow quite fast, climbing out of the nest after about a week and leaving it entirely after 14 to 16 days (3). Fledging occurs at around 27 days old, and the adults may go on to raise a second and sometimes even a third brood in the same season (2) (3).