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Marsh Wren
Cistothorus palustris

The Marsh Wren, formerly known as the Long-billed Marsh Wren, is a secretive bird of marshes with tall reeds and breeds in scattered populations across much of North American. Unlike many birds, it will sing both day and night on the breeding grounds, and the male may have more than one mate in his territroy. The Marsh Wren is primarily found in Tennessee during spring and fall migration as it makes its way to and from the wintering grounds in Central Mexico.

Description: The Marsh Wren is brown above with bold black-and-white streaks on the back, a dark cap, a whitish eye-line, and a thin bill. It is whitish below with tawny flanks, and the barred tail is often cocked upright. The male and female look similar.
Length: 5"
Wingspan: 6"
Weight: 0.39 ounces

Voice: The song is a series of 2 or 3 dry rattles, trills, or gurgles. The call is low and scolding. Marsh Wrens will sing all day and throughout the night on the breeding grounds.

Similar Species:

  • The Sedge Wren is the only other wren commonly found in wetland habitats. It has similar streaks on the back, but is smaller, has a shorter bill, a streaked crown, and a less distinct eye stripe. Sedge Wrens tend to pump their tail when agitated.

Habitat: Shrubby fields and marshes, and dense cattails.

Diet: Invertebrates, especially spiders and insects, including aquatic insects in freshwater marshes.

Nesting and reproduction: The Marsh Wren has not been documented nesting in Tennessee; however there are scattered summer records.

Status in Tennessee: An uncommon migrant in spring and summer, the Marsh Wren is found primarily from mid-April to mid-May and from late September to late October. Populations are rising in some areas, but declining in other areas.

Dynamic map of Marsh Wren eBird observations in Tennessee

Fun Facts:

  • The eastern and western populations of the Marsh Wren show few differences in appearance, but their songs vary greatly. It is thought that the eastern and western populations may represent two different species.
  • Although the Marsh Wren's harsh songs contain few musical tones, the variation in notes ranks it among the most impressive of all North American songbirds. When learning its song, males have been recorded singing 50-200 song types.

Obsolete English Names: long-billed marsh wren, tule wren

Best places to see in Tennessee: Cattail marshes statewide during spring and fall migration.

For more information:


Kroodsma, D. E. and J. Verner. 1997. Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris), The Birds of North America (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.

Nicholson, C. P. 1997. Atlas of Breeding Birds of Tennessee. Univ. Tennessee Press, Knoxville.

Robinson J. C. 1990. An Annotated Checklist of the Birds of Tennessee. Univ. Tennessee Press, Knoxville.

Sibley, D. A. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. A. A. Knopf, New York, NY.