Plants and Animals

Cistothorus palustris Marsh wren

species photo
Jack Bartholmai
species photo
Jack Bartholmai
species photo
species photo
Aaron Kortenhoven

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

US Status: No Status/Not Listed
State Status: SC - Special Concern (rare or uncertain; not legally protected)
Global Rank: G5 - Secure
State Rank: S3 - Vulnerable


CountyNumber of OccurrencesYear Last Observed
Allegan 1 2005
Arenac 2 2019
Barry 1 2013
Bay 5 2019
Benzie 1 2005
Berrien 2 2020
Chippewa 4 2018
Delta 2 2022
Grand Traverse 1 2005
Gratiot 1 2019
Huron 5 2022
Iosco 1 2019
Jackson 1 2022
Kent 1 2003
Lenawee 1 2007
Livingston 4 2022
Mackinac 4 2018
Manistee 2 2006
Mason 3 2006
Menominee 2 2007
Monroe 3 2019
Muskegon 3 2018
Oakland 1 2006
Oceana 1 2022
Ottawa 2 2005
Roscommon 1 2005
Saginaw 3 2003
Sanilac 2 2008
St. Clair 2 2017
St. Joseph 1 2000
Tuscola 3 2007
Washtenaw 5 2022
Wayne 4 2013

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.

Management Recommendations

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

Migration from third week of August to third week of September

Nesting from third week of May to third week of July

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.

Scan emergent vegetation

Survey Period: From first week of May to first week of July

Time of Day: Daytime


Survey References

  • Bibby, C.J., N.D. Burgess, and D.A. Hill. 1992. Bird Census Techniques. Academic Press, New York.

Technical References

  • Sibley, D.A. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. Knopf, Toronto. 544pp.