Marsh Wrens

The Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris) is a small songbird that occurs in western United States, where some of them are permanent residents. Others migrate to marshes and salt marshes in the southern United States and Mexico.

This wren is still common, although its numbers have declined with the loss of suitable wetland habitat.


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.

Identification Tips:

  • Average Length: 4 inches or 10 cm
  • Short, thin bill
  • Bold white supercilium (line above eye)
  • Brown upperparts
  • Unstreaked crown
  • Black back with white streaks
  • White throat and breast
  • Buffy belly and flanks
  • Wings and tail barred with black
  • Tail frequently held upright
  • Sexes similar
  • Found in marshes with tall, grassy vegetation
Marsh Wren

Similar Species:


They breed in marshes with tall vegetation, such as cattails across North America.

The nest is an oval lump attached to marsh vegetation, entered from the side.

The male may puncture the eggs of other birds nesting nearby.


They forage actively in vegetation, sometimes flying up to catch insects in flight. They mainly eat insects, but may also take spiders and snails.

Singing Marsh Wren

Call / Song:

The male’s song is a loud gurgle used to declare ownership of territory.

Western males have a more varied repertoire.

Length and wingspan from: Robbins, C.S., Bruun, B., Zim, H.S., (1966). Birds of North America. New York: Western Publishing Company, Inc.)

Photo of author

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