Marsh Wren

Cistothorus palustris
A Marsh Wren specimen on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

Slightly smaller than the similarly-shaped Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus), the Marsh Wren is most easily identified by its size (5 inches), white eye-stripes, and white-striped back. Other field marks include a curved bill, short tail, and short wings. Male and female Marsh Wrens are similar to one another in all seasons. The Marsh Wren has two distinct breeding populations, mainly differentiated by differences in song patterns. One breeds in the eastern U.S., south-central Canada, and along the Gulf Coast. The other breeds from the Pacific coast of the U.S. east to the western Plains. Most birds breeding in the northeastern U.S. and Canada migrate to coastal areas of the southeastern U.S. in winter, while some western birds winter in the desert southwest and in Mexico. Most western Marsh Wrens, as well as coastal-breeding birds in the east, are non-migratory. Appropriately, the Marsh Wren inhabits a variety of marshland and wet grassland habitats across North America. The majority of Marsh Wrens breed in freshwater marshes, but coastal birds inhabit brackish or saltwater marshes as well. This species eats a variety of insects found in the water, on the blades of marsh grasses, or in the air. Due to this species’ preference for heavily-vegetated marshland habitats, the Marsh Wren is often more easily heard than seen. Male Marsh Wrens may be seen singing while perched atop marsh vegetation. With the aid of binoculars, Marsh Wrens may be seen while partially hidden in the undergrowth, climbing stalks of grasses while foraging for food. Marsh Wrens may also be seen undertaking short flights above the grass. This species is primarily active during the day.

DC Information

Fairly common migrant and local summer resident in meadows along tidal marshes. Found in this area from early May to late September, breeding in May and June. Sexes are similar.

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species

Bird Vocalizations

Cistothorus palustris

Sound from xeno-canto. XC31174 Cistothorus palustris (Marsh Wren)

Sound from xeno-canto. XC53855 Cistothorus palustris (Marsh Wren)