Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Marsh Wrens

As a group, wrens are small, noisy, brown birds that often hold their short tails upright.  Their bills are thin and curve down to a point for picking and eating insects and spiders.  The House Wren is the most familiar; it is plain brown and nests in tree cavities or nest boxes, often in proximity to human dwellings.

Its cousin, the Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris) lives – where else – in cattail marshes.  Its gurgling, rattling trill can be heard any time of day or night.  (If you think you might have heard this wren, you can listen to a recording of its song on the All About Birds website.)  On rare occasions when it perches on a cattail top in the open, you’ll notice a dark cap and light line above the eye.

During breeding season, nests are lashed to vegetation and sometimes hidden in shrubs.  Construction includes a woven dome of grasses and sedges with the entrance on side.

The Marsh Wren population is declining in the east, but increasing in the west.  Major differences in the two subspecies’ songs may indicate two separate species.  The combined winter range extends along the Gulf coast into the Southwest and down through all of Mexico.  A year-round population hugs the east coast from the Mason-Dixon line [the Pennsylvania/Maryland border] south to Florida. During migration, a Marsh Wren can stop in any of the lower 48 states.

The Marsh Wren photo was taken September 3rd from the dike separating the two main impoundments at the Montezuma Audubon Center north of Savannah, New York, where they can be heard, and sometimes seen, throughout the late spring, summer and early fall. You can get an idea of their seasonal distribution (and all the other species) in the Wetlands Complex by looking at the eBird bar chart for Wayne and Seneca Counties, New York.

On Saturday, September 29, there will be an organized canoe trip in the Montezuma Wetlands Complex from 2 pm – 4:30 pm.  Join the Montezuma Audubon Center’s Teacher-Naturalist, Frank Morehouse to explore the Seneca River along Howland’s Island, New York.   Learn about the birds and other wildlife of the area on a leisurely paddle.   There is a fee; canoes, paddles and life jackets will be provided (and binoculars if needed).   Bring water and snacks.   Pre-registration is required by calling (315) 365-3588 or email for details. The MAC website is

Canoeing the Seneca River around Howland's Island, New York (file photo taken July 9th)  - © Dave Spier

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