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Marsh WrenMarsh Wren
Marsh Wren nests are domed structures attached to several stems of emergent marsh vegetation such as cattails or bulrushes. Early-season nests are usually placed between 1 1/2 and 3 feet above water, and higher later in the season. Strips of cattail leaves, grass or other stems up to a foot long are woven into a hollow ball about 7" tall and 5" wide with an entrance hole near the top on one side. Males display while perched above the females by puffing up their feathers until they look like little balls with their tails cocked over their backs, fluttering half-open wings, and moving their heads from side to side. After mating, males accompany the females on an inspection of the nests. Selecting one, the female lines it with finer leaves and stems, cattail down and feathers. She constructs a lip at the doorway, extending inward, so that there is a sort of tubular entrance. Inside she lays four to six dark brownish eggs and incubates them for about two weeks.

Males with superior territories often have second or even third mates, especially in western populations. Mates of polygamous males usually tend the young hatchlings without much help. After about 12 days in the nest, the young fledge before their flying abilities are fully developed. They may use some of the dummy nests for roosting, and are fed for up to two more weeks. Marsh Wrens are typically double-brooded.

Males sing while perched high in the marsh vegetation, or during short song-flights. The song is loud, energetic, bubbling, and varied, and may be heard throughout the day and sometimes into the night. Eastern Marsh Wren songs are slower and more musical than those of western birds, which incorporate a wider range of harsh grating sounds. They have a repertoire of about 50 songs, while western birds typically have about four times as many songs. In western Marsh Wrens especially, countersinging between neighbors is common as the birds cycle through their repertoires. The differences in voices and singing behavior of eastern and western populations have led some authorities to postulate the existence of two separate species, although there are only slight differences in appearance.

Marsh Wrens breed across southern Canada and northern United States, south in the West to northern Baja California, and in the East to Florida. Northern populations are migratory, wintering in a variety of marshy habitats in the southern United States and Mexico.
Marsh Wren Range Map

Marsh Wrens are small (5" long) with brownish upperparts and white or whitish throat, breast, and belly. The cap is brownish-black over a prominent white supercilium. The bill is thin and relatively long. On the back are distinctive black and white longitudinal streaks. Sexes are alike.

The Marsh Wren is usually the only wren in its habitat, although Sedge Wrens sometimes occur nearby, in moist meadows. The Sedge Wren is smaller and paler than the Marsh Wren, has a proportionally shorter bill, less prominent back streaking, and eyestripe. The wings of the Sedge Wren are distinctly barred and the cap is streaked unlike the solid cap of the Marsh Wren.

Male Marsh Wrens build a dozen or more "dummy nests" during the week or so after they return to the breeding grounds and before females arrive. It is thought that the extra nests may serve as decoys for predators in an environment where nest concealment is difficult.

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