Marsh Wren

Cistothorus palustris
Range Map

We can find Marsh Wrens during some part of the calendar year, across most of the North American continent, from southern Canada to southern Mexico. They spend winters between southern USA and Mexico, and they make summer homes between southern Canada and northern USA. Scattered throughout this range, in places like the Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf coasts, there are pockets where these birds will stay year-round. The Great Basin and parts of the Colorado Plateau are also locations where there are year-round resident birds.

Some describe the Marsh Wren’s song as “a loud gurgle”. These suitably named birds make their homes wherever they find suitable wetlands. There are significant differences between the eastern and the western forms of this bird. Some believe them to be separate species.

Today’s taxonomists recognise 14 subspecies of Marsh Wren:

  • Eastern Group:
    • C. p. dissaeptus breeds from southern Ontario east and south to northern Ohio, the mountains of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, east to New Brunswick, and south to New England.
    • C. p. palustris breeds in coastal and estuarine marshes from lower Hudson River in New York and New Jersey, south to Virginia.
    • C. p. waynei breeds in coastal marshes of southern Virginia and North Carolina.
    • C. p. griseus lives in coastal marshes of the Atlantic Coast from South Carolina to eastern-central Florida.
    • C. p. marianae lives from southwestern Florida to southeastern Texas.
  • Intermediate Group:
    • C. p. laingi breeds from northern Alberta and central Saskatchewan to Manitoba, and south to Montana.
    • C. p. iliacus breeds from Manitoba, southwestern Ontario, and Michigan, south to Kansas and Missouri, and east to Ohio.
  • Western Group:
    • C. p. plesius breeds from southeastern Idaho to Colorado, New Mexico and Nebraska.
    • C. p. pulverius breeds from south-central British Columbia, Washington, and Idaho, south to northeastern California and northern Nevada.
    • C. p. browningi breeds in southwestern British Columbia to Washington.
    • C. p. paludicola breeds from southwestern Washington south to Oregon.
    • C. p. aestuarinus lives along northern and central coasts of California south through the Central Valley, and east to the Mojave and Colorado Deserts.
    • C. p. clarkae lives from Los Angeles south to San Diego.
  • Mexican Group:
    • C. p. tolucensis, lives in Mexico from Hidalgo southeast to Puebla.

The male Marsh Wren is a prolific nest builder. In a typical breeding season, he will take two mates and build a half-dozen dummy nests for each female to choose one as her own. Males may build over twenty nests in a single season.

In spring and summer, it is easy to locate these small bundles of energy by simply listening during a visit to a suitable wetland habitat. I have enjoyed watching their acrobatic maneuvers, doing the splits on separate stems, and bouncing through the reeds with tails bent at an impossible angle over their backs while scolding all interlopers.

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