Cistothorus palustris
Marsh wren
Image of Cistothorus palustris

Photo by Jack Bartholmai 

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Key Characteristics

The Marsh wren is a quick little bird with black and white streaks on its back, a brown cap and a broad white eyeline with a black stripe above. The wren is stocky with a long narrow bill. Its rump is a bright dark red, its throat and breast are pale and its flanks are reddish. It sings a gurgling song in the breeding season.

Status and Rank

  • State Status: SC
  • State Rank: S3
  • Global Rank: G5


County NameNumber of OccurrencesYear Last Observed
Grand Traverse12005
St. Clair22011
St. Joseph12000
Distribution map for Cistothorus palustris

Updated 7/21/2017. Information is summarized from MNFI's database of rare species and community occurrences. Data may not reflect true distribution since much of the state has not been thoroughly surveyed.


The ideal habitat for the Marsh Wren is narrow-leafed cattail and cord-grass marshes. Nest placement over standing water in dense cattail is preferred.

Natural Community Types


For each species, lists of natural communities were derived from review of the nearly 6,500 element occurrences in the MNFI database, in addition to herbarium label data for some taxa. In most cases, at least one specimen record exists for each listed natural community. For certain taxa, especially poorly collected or extirpated species of prairie and savanna habitats, natural community lists were derived from inferences from collection sites and habitat preferences in immediately adjacent states (particularly Indiana and Illinois). Natural communities are not listed for those species documented only from altered or ruderal habitats in Michigan, especially for taxa that occur in a variety of habitats outside of the state.

Natural communities are not listed in order of frequency of occurrence, but are rather derived from the full set of natural communities, organized by Ecological Group. In many cases, the general habitat descriptions should provide greater clarity and direction to the surveyor. In future versions of the Rare Species Explorer, we hope to incorporate natural community fidelity ranks for each taxon.


Large deepwater marshes should be preserved. The marsh should support or be managed for dense stands of emergent vegetation interspersed with submergent vegetation and open water. Prescribed burns may be used in the winter to clear patches of dead emergent vegetation but care should be taken to avoid burning more than approximately 1/3 of the area in order to maintain some suitable habitat over a many years. Herbicides should not be applied to control the emergent or submergent vegetation without site specific environmental review as this may directly eliminate nesting habitat. Insecticide applications should go through a similar process as this may indirectly affect the available aquatic insect prey. Water levels should be not be raised significantly during the nesting season to avoid flooding nests but may be allowed to draw down some at the end of the season in order to maintain lush vegetative growth.

Active Period

Migration from third week of April to second week of May

Nesting from third week of May to third week of July

Migration from third week of August to third week of September

Survey Methods

While Marsh wrens are most vocal near sunrise they often sing throughout the day. Scan the tops of emergent vegetation for singing males or use a call playback to elicit a response from territorial individuals. Nests may persist from year to year and these can indicate areas that should be surveyed again if no activity is detected during the breeding season. Surveys for these old nests may be conducted in early winter after ice conditions allow safe walking but before snow drifts conceal them or throughout the rest of the year while canoeing or wading through suitable habitat.

Page Citation

Michigan Natural Features Inventory. 2007. Rare Species Explorer (Web Application). Available online at [Accessed Jan 24, 2018]

More Information

See MNFI Species Abstract


Survey References

Technical References

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