Marsh wren

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Marsh wren
In Canada
Singing in Typha marsh in Minnesota
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Troglodytidae
Genus: Cistothorus
C. palustris
Binomial name
Cistothorus palustris
(Wilson, A, 1810)
Distribution map

Telmatodytes palustris

Singing in a marsh at Hammonasset Beach, Connecticut

The marsh wren (Cistothorus palustris) is a small North American songbird of the wren family. It is sometimes called the long-billed marsh wren to distinguish it from the sedge wren, also known as the short-billed marsh wren.


The marsh wren was described by the Scottish-American ornithologist Alexander Wilson in 1810 and given the binomial name Certhia palustris.[2] The current genus Cistothorus was introduced by the German ornithologist Jean Cabanis in 1850.[3] There are 15 recognised subspecies.[4]

Etymology: from Greek 'κιστος' (cistos, "a shrub") and 'θουρος' (thouros, "leaping, or running through") and Latin 'palustris' ("marshy").[5]


Cap Tourmente National Wildlife Area, Quebec, Canada

Adults have brown upperparts with a light brown belly and flanks and a white throat and breast. The back is black with white stripes. They have a dark cap with a white line over the eyes and a short thin bill.

The male's song is a loud gurgle used to declare ownership of territory; western males have a more varied repertoire.

This little bird is native to Canada, Mexico, and the United States. Their breeding habitat is marshes with tall vegetation such as cattails across North America. In the western United States, some birds are permanent residents. Other birds migrate to marshes and salt marshes in the southern United States and Mexico. their non-breeding range is in the southern United States going into Mexico and their breeding range is in the northeastern United States going into Canada.[6]


  • Length: 3.9–5.5 in (9.9–14.0 cm)
  • Weight: 0.3–0.5 oz (8.5–14.2 g)
  • Wingspan: 5.9 inches (15 cm)

Foraging and diet[edit]

These birds forage actively in vegetation close to the water, occasionally flying up to catch insects in flight. They mainly eat insects, also spiders and snails. In California, 53 Western Marsh Wren stomachs were examined which showed that the birds consume bugs (29%), caterpillars and chrysalids (17%), beetles (16%), ants and wasps (8%), spiders (5%), carabids and coccinellids (2%), with various other flies, grasshoppers, dragonflies and unidentifiable insect remains making up over 11 percent. Ants and wasps were observed to be mostly eaten in the fall.[8][9]


The nest is an oval structure attached to marsh vegetation, entered from the side. The male builds many unused nests in his territory. A hypothesis of the possible reason to why males build multiple "dummy" nests in their territory is that they are courting areas and that the females construct the "breeding nest" in which she lays her eggs.[10] He may puncture the eggs and fatally peck the nestlings of other birds nesting nearby, including his own species (even his own offspring) and red-winged blackbirds, yellow-headed blackbirds, and least bitterns.[11] The clutch is normally four to six eggs, though the number can range from three to 10.[12] The eggs are usually 0.6-0.7 inches in length and 0.4-0.6 inches in width.[8] Incubation is performed only by females, and only females develop a brood patch.[13] Marsh wren young can get infected by pathogenic larvae.[14] The Blowfly larvae infect the young by subdermal myiasis-induced lesions and subsequent sepsis.[14] The larvae form a wound in the young by rasping and expanding a hole in their skin to create blood flow and feed on the blood of the hosts' body.[14]


The species is still common with an estimated global breeding population of 9.4 million.[8] However, its numbers have declined with the loss of suitable wetland habitat and wholesale draining of marshes will lead to local extinction. Still, the species is widespread enough not to qualify as threatened according to the IUCN.




  1. ^ BirdLife International (2016). "Cistothorus palustris". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2016: e.T22711374A94291392. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-3.RLTS.T22711374A94291392.en. Retrieved 12 November 2021.
  2. ^ Wilson, Alexander (1810). American ornithology, or, The natural history of the birds of the United States. Vol. 2. Philadelphia: Bradford and Inskeep. pp. 58–60, Plate 12 fig. 4.
  3. ^ Cabanis, Jean (1850). Museum Heineanum : Verzeichniss der ornithologischen Sammlung des Oberamtmann Ferdinand Heine, auf Gut St. Burchard vor Halberstadt (in German). Vol. 1. Halberstadt: In Commission bei R. Frantz. p. 77.
  4. ^ Gill, Frank; Donsker, David, eds. (2017). "Dapple-throats, sugarbirds, fairy-bluebirds, kinglets, hyliotas, wrens & gnatcatchers". World Bird List Version 7.3. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 29 December 2017.
  5. ^ McGillivray, Semenchuck, William Bruce, Glen Peter (1998). The Federation of Alberta Naturalists Field Guide to Alberta Birds. Federation of Alberta Naturalists. ISBN 9780969613428. Retrieved 22 October 2019.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  6. ^ Cornell All About Birds.
  7. ^ "Marsh Wren Identification, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology". Retrieved 2020-09-28.
  8. ^ a b c "Marsh Wren". All About Birds. Retrieved 17 April 2020.
  9. ^ Beal, F. E. L (1907). Birds of California in relation to the fruit industry. Vol. Part 1. Washington Government Printing Office. p. 62.
  10. ^ Metz, Karen J. “The Enigma of Multiple Nest Building by Male Marsh Wrens.” Jan. 1991, pp. 170–173.
  11. ^ Kroodsma, Donald E.; Verner, Jared (1997). A. Poole (ed.). "Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris)". The Birds of North America Online. Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Retrieved 2013-03-03.
  12. ^ "All About Birds: Marsh Wren". Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Retrieved 2008-07-20.
  13. ^ Verner, Jared (1964). Breeding Biology of the Long-billed Marsh Wren. p. 19.
  14. ^ a b c Warren, Yvonne. "Protocalliphora Braueri (Diptera: Calliphoridae) Induced Pathogenesis in a Brood of Marsh Wren (Cistothorus Palustris) Young". Journal of Wildlife Diseases, 17 Mar. 1993, doi:10.7589.

General sources[edit]

  • Henninger, W. F. (1906): "A preliminary list of the birds of Seneca County, Ohio". Wilson Bull. 18(2): 47–60. DjVu full text PDF full text
  • Warren, Yvonne. "Protocalliphora Braueri (Diptera: Calliphoridae) Induced Pathogenesis in a Brood of Marsh Wren (Cistothorus Palustris) Young". Journal of Wildlife Diseases, 17 Mar. 1993. doi:10.7589.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]