Family Wrens (Troglodytidae)

Least Concern

Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris)


French: Troglodyte des marais German: Sumpfzaunkönig Spanish: Cucarachero pantanero

Certhia palustris

A. Wilson

, 1810,

Pennsylvania, USA


Sometimes placed in a monotypic genus Telmatodytes, but genetic data do not support this#R. Studies of song types suggest that W races (“paludicola group”, also including browningi, pulverius, plesius, aestuarinus, clarkae and deserticola) constitute a separate species from N & E ones (“palustris group”), a possibility supported by DNA studies of populations in limited area of sympatry, where there appears to be an effective reproductive isolation even in habitats in which individuals of each song type co-exist. Vocal differences, however, appear subtle and not easily expressed by differences in basic sound parameters, although they clearly exist#R. Affinities of isolated C Mexican race tolucensis uncertain; studies required. Sixteen subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • C. p. browningi Rea, 1986 – extreme SW Canada (SW British Columbia) S in W USA to C Washington; non-breeding also to SW Washington.
  • C. p. paludicola S. F. Baird, 1864 – Western Marsh Wren – SW Washington and NW Oregon.
  • C. p. pulverius (Aldrich, 1946) – from C British Columbia and C Idaho S to NE California and NW Nevada; non-breeding NW Oregon and C California S to C Mexico and S Texas.
  • C. p. plesius Oberholser, 1897 – from SE Idaho S to C Colorado and New Mexico; non-breeding C California, Nevada and Kansas S to C Mexico.
  • C. p. aestuarinus (Swarth, 1917) – C California (Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys to San Joaquin Delta); non-breeding also W to California coast.
  • C. p. clarkae Unitt et al., 1996 – coastal S California (Los Angeles S to San Diego).
  • C. p. deserticola Rea, 1986 – interior of S California.
  • C. p. laingi (Harper, 1926) – SC Canada (N Alberta and C Saskatchewan E to SE Manitoba) and extreme N USA (NE Montana); non-breeding S USA (S Texas) and Mexico (S to E Jalisco, Oaxaca and C Veracruz).
  • C. p. iliacus Ridgway, 1903 – from Manitoba and SW Ontario S in USA to E Kansas and Missouri; non-breeding S USA (E from SE Texas) and interior Mexico (S as far as Tlaxcala).
  • C. p. dissaeptus Bangs, 1902 – from S Ontario S to N Ohio, West Virginia and S New England; non-breeding S to S Florida and E Mexico (S to Veracruz).
  • C. p. palustris (A. Wilson, 1810) – Eastern Marsh Wren – E USA (from Rhode Island S to coastal Virginia and Potomac Valley); non-breeding from New Jersey S to South Carolina, sparsely to Florida.
  • C. p. waynei (Dingle & Sprunt, 1932) – coasts of S Virginia and North Carolina.
  • C. p. griseus Brewster, 1893 – coastal marshes from NE South Carolina S to NE coast of Florida.
  • C. p. thryophilus (Oberholser, 1903) – Gulf Coast of Texas and Louisiana.
  • C. p. marianae W. E. D. Scott, 1888 – Gulf Coast from Mississippi E to Florida.
  • C. p. tolucensis (Nelson, 1904) – Southern Marsh Wren – C Mexico (Hidalgo and México S to Puebla).
  • Descriptive notes

    11·5–12·5 cm; male 10·5–13·5 g, female 9–13·5 g. Nominate race has black-brown crown, darkest at side, contrasting... read more


    Male song a bubbling chatter. Two types of singer, suggesting two species: in W (from Pacific E to... read more


    Breeds usually in areas with standing water of various depths: most N populations in stands of cat-... read more

    Food and feeding

    Mostly arthropods; documented prey items include hymenopterans (ants, bees, wasps), beetles (Coleoptera), bugs (Hemiptera), dipteran flies... read more


    Breeds from May onwards in N, earlier farther S, multiple-brooded (especially in S); no data on isolated Mexican race (tolucensis... read more


    Resident and migratory. N populations highly migratory; breeding areas from Canada (interior... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened. Common or abundant in many areas with suitable habitat. Densities in optimum habitat can be remarkably high, e.g. up to 167 pairs/ha in coastal ... read more

    Recommended citation

    Kroodsma, D. & Brewer, D. (2018). Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 22 January 2018).