Vancouver Avian Research Centre

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Species: Marsh Wren  Cistothorus palustri



The reedy, gurgling sounds of the Marsh Wren can be heard throughout much of North America’s cattail and bulrush marshes.  It is more often heard than seen.

It has a year round range in the western U.S. and southern B.C. and a breeding range in the northern United States and southern Canadian provinces.  It winters in the southern U.S. and Mexico.  


General:  A small and stocky wren with a long bill.  Dull black crown and white superciliary stripe.  Upper back has a black triangular area striped with white.  The remainder of the upper parts and wings are rusty brown with faint black bars on the wings.  The tail is rusty with black bars.  The chin and throat are whitish and the belly and flanks are a buff colour.  Length: 13cm.  Weight: 9.0-14.0 g. 

Adult Male:  Males are considerably larger than females.  Sexes are monochromatic. 

Adult Female:  Sexes are monochromatic. 

Juvenile:  Similar to adult, but lacks streaking on the back and the eyestripe is idistinct. 

Similar Species:  Sedge Wren is smaller with a shorter bill.  Unlike the Marsh Wren it has a streaked crown, pale supercillium and a boldly streaked back.  Its wings are barred. 

Behaviour:  In the marsh, this wren's flight is short with quick wing beats giving the appearance of fluttering rapidly into the reeds.  At times they cling to cattails moving up and down or straddling the reeds while vocalizing. 

Marsh Wren feed on invertebrates especially insects, including aquatic insects as well as spiders.  They glean prey from plants and just below water. 

This wren also has a large repertoire and complex singing behaviours. 

Habitat:  Is restricted to freshwater and saltwater marshes in its North American range that can be unpredictable both geographically and annually. 


The Marsh Wren is polygynous where the male may mate with more than one female.  The male can build multiple nests and has a habit of destroying eggs and nests of its own and other species.  The nests are a domed structure within which 4-6 eggs are laid.  The eggs are dull brown and marked with darker brown spots. 


Currently listed as Least Concern, the Marsh Wren is decreasing in the eastern portion of its range, however is increasing in the west.

Capture Rates

Although Marsh Wren can be a year-round resident, capture rates (2010-2012; standardized as birds captured per 100 net hours) reflect increased activity in late summer and fall corresponding to juvenile dispersal.

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