Bird GuideWrensMarsh Wren

At a Glance

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.
Perching Birds, Wrens
Low Concern
Coasts and Shorelines, Freshwater Wetlands, Lakes, Ponds, and Rivers, Saltwater Wetlands
California, Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Direct Flight, Flitter, Rapid Wingbeats, Running

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

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


4-5 1/2" (10-14 cm). Small and active, tail often held up over back. Bold white eyebrow, solid brown crown, white stripes on black triangle in center of back.
About the size of a Sparrow
Black, Brown, Red, Tan, White
Wing Shape
Tail Shape
Rounded, Short, Square-tipped

Songs and Calls

Liquid gurgling song ending in a mechanical chatter that sounds like a sewing machine.
Call Pattern
Flat, Undulating
Call Type
Buzz, Chirp/Chip, Flute, Trill


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.



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.


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

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.


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.


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.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Undoubtedly has declined with loss of freshwater wetlands, but still fairly widespread and common.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Marsh Wren. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Marsh Wren

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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