South Dakota
Birds and Birding
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Marsh Wren

Cistothorus palustris

Length: 4.5 to 5 inches Wingspan: 5.5 to 7 inches Seasonality: Summer
ID Keys: (both sexes): Brown upperparts with black and white streaking in center of back, white underparts, bold white eyebrow, blackish-brown crown.

Marsh Wren - Cistothorus palustrisMarsh Wrens are often difficult to spot in their preferred wetland habitats, as they tend to forage very low in the wetland vegetation.  Their bubbly song can often be heard in these habitats, however.  They build globe-shaped nests attached to wetland vegetation, and are known for building 20 or more "dummy nests" that aren't used for breeding but may be used as night-time roosts during other seasons.

Habitat: During the summer breeding season, they can be found in a variety of fresh- and brackish-water marshes, usually where dense stands of wetland vegetation (cattails, etc.) are present in shallow water or along the water's edges.  Uses similar habitat during the winter, but will also use salt marshes.

Diet: Primarily feeds on insects, both terrestrial and aquatic.  Will also eat spiders and snails.

Behavior: Forages in dense low vegetation, hunting for insects both on the vegetation and on the ground.  They will often take items from the water's surface, and will also occasionally fly from a perch to take flying insects from mid-air.

Nesting: June and July

Breeding Map: Breeding Bird Survey map.

Song: A gurgling, bubbly variable medley.  Click here to listen to the Marsh Wren's songClick here for the Marsh Wren's call.

Migration: Summers throughout much of the northern United States and Canada.  Winters throughout the southwestern quarter of the United States, along the Pacific Coast, and in the deep southeastern U.S.  Some populations along the Pacific Coast and in the western U.S. are permanent residents.

Similar Species: Sedge Wren.

Conservation Status: Numbers are probably much lower than historical levels due to the vast loss of wetlands throughout its normal range, but they currently appear to have stable populations.

Further Information: 1) Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Marsh Wren

2) Cornell University's "All About Birds - Marsh Wren"

3) Marsh Wren

Photo Information: July 26th, 2006 - Minnehaha County - Terry Sohl

Additional Photos: Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Marsh Wren photos.


Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Marsh Wren - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Common summer breeding resident in the eastern part of the state.  Less common in the west and local.