David Lang/Great Backyard Bird Count Participant

Marsh Wren

Cistothorus palustris

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
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.

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

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Migration

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

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Migration

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

Songs and Calls
Liquid gurgling song ending in a mechanical chatter that sounds like a sewing machine.