Marsh WrenCistothorus palustris

adult, Western
Bob Steele/VIREO
adult, Eastern
Doug Wechsler/VIREO
adult, Western
Glenn Bartley/VIREO
adult, Eastern
George L. Armistead/VIREO
Marsh Wren
Marsh Wren



4-5 1/2" (10-14 cm). Smaller than a sparrow. Brown above, pale buff below, with bold white eyebrow and white-streaked back.


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


song (eastern subspecies) #2
churr calls
excited chit calls
song (eastern subspecies) #1
buzz calls
twitter song & chits
song (western subspecies) #1
song (western subspecies) #2


Freshwater and brackish marshes with cattails, reeds, bulrushes, or sedges.


Breeds from British Columbia, central interior Canada, Manitoba, and Nova Scotia south to Mexico, Gulf Coast, and Florida. Winters across southern tier of states, north to Washington on West Coast and in East to New Jersey.


This wren feeds entirely on insects it takes from plants as well as the surface of water. It is a secretive bird; even the singing territorial male remains well hidden, briefly climbing a cattail for a look at an intruder. The male has a number of mates, each of which builds a nest of her own. The male may also build up to half a dozen "dummy" nests, often incomplete, one of which may be used as a roost. Thus a marsh frequented by these birds often contains many nests in various stages of completion. Locating a nest with eggs or young in it can take much time, which may be one purpose of the dummy nests.


5 or 6 pale brown eggs, speckled with dark brown, in a globular nest of reeds and cattails with a side entrance. Nest is lined with feathers and cattail down and anchored to reeds.

Similar Species


Sedge Wren

4-4 1/2" (10-11 cm). A tiny, secretive wren of grassy marshes. Buff-colored, with finely streaked crown and back. Best distinguished by voice and habitat.


Rock Wren

5-6 1/2" (13-17 cm). A sparrow-sized wren, pale grayish brown with a finely streaked breast. Outer tail feathers have whitish or pale buff tips.


Bewick's Wren

5 1/2" (14 cm). Gray-brown above, white below, with white eyebrow and long fan-shaped tail tipped with white.


Carolina Wren

5 1/2" (14 cm). Rich brown above, buff below, with conspicuous white eyebrow.

adult, Western

House Wren

4 1/2 -5 1/4" (11-13 cm). A tiny bird with a short tail, often held cocked over the back. Dusky brown above, paler below, with no distinctive markings.


Winter Wren

4-4 1/2" (10-11cm). A tiny, dark brown bird with a very short tail, narrow pale eyebrow, and heavily banded flanks and belly. See Pacific Wren and House Wren.


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