Photo: David Lang/Great Backyard Bird Count Participant

Marsh Wren

Cistothorus palustris

A sputtering, bubbling song among the cattails is a giveaway that the Marsh Wren is at home. A patient watcher eventually will see the bird as it slips furtively through the reeds or bounces to the top of a stem for a look around. Industrious male Marsh Wrens build "dummy nests" in their nesting territories, occasionally up to twenty or more; most of these are never used for raising young, but the adults may sleep in them during other seasons.
Conservation status Undoubtedly has declined with loss of freshwater wetlands, but still fairly widespread and common.
Family Wrens
Habitat Marshes (cattail, bulrush, or brackish). Breeds in many fresh and brackish marsh situations, usually with a large area of cattails, bulrushes, or cordgrass; also in other kinds of low rank growth along shallow water. Winters in a wider variety of large and small marshes, including salt marshes and brushy edges of ponds or irrigation ditches.
A sputtering, bubbling song among the cattails is a giveaway that the Marsh Wren is at home. A patient watcher eventually will see the bird as it slips furtively through the reeds or bounces to the top of a stem for a look around. Industrious male Marsh Wrens build "dummy nests" in their nesting territories, occasionally up to twenty or more; most of these are never used for raising young, but the adults may sleep in them during other seasons.
Photo Gallery
  • adult, Western
  • adult, Eastern
  • adult, Western
  • adult, Eastern
Feeding Behavior

Forages very actively in dense low growth, taking insects from the stems of marsh plants or from the ground. Often picks items from surface of water. Sometimes makes short flights to catch flying insects in mid-air.


Eggs

4-5, sometimes 3-6, rarely more. Pale brown, heavily dotted with dark brown; sometimes may be all white. Incubation is by female only, about 13-16 days. Young: Both parents feed young but female probably does more. Young leave nest about 12-16 days after hatching. 2 broods per year.


Young

Both parents feed young but female probably does more. Young leave nest about 12-16 days after hatching. 2 broods per year.

Diet

Mostly insects. Feeds on a wide variety of insects, including beetles, flies, moths, caterpillars, ants, grasshoppers, and many others. May include various aquatic insects and their larvae, including those of mosquitoes and damselflies. Also eats spiders and snails.


Nesting

Male defends nesting territory by singing; western males have far more song types than those in the east. One male may have two or more mates. Adults often puncture the eggs of other birds nesting in marsh (including those of other Marsh Wrens). Nest: Male builds several incomplete or "dummy" nests in territory; female chooses one and adds lining, or may build a new one. Nest is anchored to standing cattails, bulrushes, or bushes in marsh, usually 1-3' above water, sometimes higher. Nest is oval or football-shaped mass with entrance on side, woven of wet grass, cattails, rushes, lined with fine grass, plant down, feathers.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Probably migrates at night. Migrants sometimes stop over in odd habitats, away from water.

Download Our Bird Guide App

Migration

Probably migrates at night. Migrants sometimes stop over in odd habitats, away from water.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Liquid gurgling song ending in a mechanical chatter that sounds like a sewing machine.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Wrens Perching Birds

Marsh Wren

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
Zoom InOut

Explore Similar Birds