Marsh Wren

By Penny Ellison

At dawn and dusk around the island, you are likely to hear the bubbly song of the abundant marsh wrens.  You may even hear their boisterous trilling and buzzing song in the overnight hours.  But seeing them can be more of a challenge. Marsh wrens are tiny with round bodies and short tails that are often held up. Look for fine streaks on top of the head and back and a pale eyebrow stripe. The bird’s back is light brown, and its underside, chest, and sides are a rusty cinnamon. Despite their frequent song, they live a secretive life, usually hiding in reeds or clinging to stems of other vegetation in the marsh, often with each foot on a different stalk, shimmying up and down. Adults often return to the same breeding territories year after year. Males arrive to the breeding grounds first and begin building several dome-shaped nests, some for eggs but usually many more just to create decoys for predators. When a female arrives, the male cocks his tail and sings. He then escorts her around to his nests, bowing and holding up his tail. Interestingly, males don’t stick with just one female; they frequently hedge their bets by mating with several.  Once a female selects the nest, eggs are usually laid in June.  Both male and female marsh wrens aggressively defend their territory. In fact, marsh wrens make for unfriendly neighbors. They often destroy the eggs and nestlings of other marsh wrens and nesting birds, likely viewing them as competition for scarce resources. The best viewing opportunities would be from boardwalks that allow you to look down into the marsh vegetation.

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