Birds Vol 1 #4 – The Marsh Wren

Long-billed Marsh Wren by Birds Illustrated by Color Photography, 1897

Long-billed Marsh Wren by Birds Illustrated by Color Photography, 1897

Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited

Vol 1. April, 1897 No. 4



With tail up, and head up,
The Wren begins to sing;
He fills the air with melody,
And makes the alders ring;
We listen to his cadences,
We watch his frisky motions,
We think—his mate attending him—
He’s got some nesting notions.—C. C. M.


HESE Wrens inhabit marshy and weedy bottom lands along river courses, and have all the brisk manners and habits of the family. This species, however, has a peculiar habit of building several nests every season, and it is suggested that these are built to procure protection for the female, in order that when search is made for the nest where she is sitting, the male may lure the hunter to an empty nest.

Its song is not unlike that of the House Wren, though less agreeable. It is a summer resident, arriving in May and departing in September. Its nest, which is found along borders of rivers, is made of sedge and grasses suspended near tall reeds. It has been found hanging over a small stream, suspended from the drooping bough of an alder tree, swayed to and fro by every breath of air. A careful observer states that a Wren will forsake her nest when building it, sooner than any other bird known to him. Disturb her repeatedly when building and she leaves it apparently without cause; insert your fingers in her tenement and she will leave it forever. But when the eggs are laid, the Wren will seldom abandon her treasure, and when her tender brood are depending on her for food, she will never forsake them, even though the young be handled, or the female bird be caught on the nest while feeding them. The food of the Wren is insects, their larvae and eggs, and fruit in season.

This Wren has justly been called a perennial songster. “In Spring the love-song of the Wren sounds through the forest glades and hedges, as the buds are expanding into foliage and his mate is seeking a site for a cave-like home. And what a series of jerks it is composed of, and how abruptly he finishes his song, as if suddenly alarmed; but this is his peculiar habit and common to him alone. In summer we hear his song morning, noon, and night, go forth for very joyfulness, as he wanders hither and thither in his leafy bower.” It is only in the moulting season that he does not sing.

A lady who used to attract a great number of birds to her garden with crumbs, seeds, and other dainties, said that when the weather became cold the Wrens used to gather upon a large branch of a tree, about four inches beneath another branch. They assembled there in the evening and packed themselves very comfortably for the night, three or four deep, apparently for the sake of warmth, the topmost Wren always having his back pressed against the outer branch as if to keep all steady. Pitying their forlorn condition, she provided a bedroom for them—a square box lined with flannel, and with a very small round hole for a door. This was fastened to the branch, and the birds promptly took possession of it, their numbers increasing nightly, until at least forty Wrens crowded into the box which did not seem to afford room for half the number. When thus assembled they became so drowsy as to permit themselves to be gently handled.

Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris) by Ray

Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris) by Ray


A happier pair of birds than these little Wrens it would be hard to find.

They have just come up from taking their morning bath and are going to sing a while before going to work on their nests.

You see I say nests. That is a strange thing about the Wrens, they build several nests. I wonder if you can tell why they do this. If you can’t, ask your teacher about it.

It is a little too early in the season or I would have one of the nests in the picture for you to look at.

I will try to describe it to you, so that you will know it when you see it. These little Wrens make their nests of coarse grasses, reed stalks, and such things, lined with fine grasses. It is round like a ball, or nearly so, and has the opening in the side. They fasten them to the reeds and bushes.

If you wish to get acquainted with these birds, you must visit the tall grasses and cat-tails along rivers and creeks and in marshes.

You won’t have to let them know that you are coming; they will see you long before you see them, and from their little nests they will begin to scold you, for fear that you mean to do them harm.

When they see that you mean them no harm, they will begin to entertain you with their songs. Oh, how they do sing! It just seems as though they would burst with song.

You can see how happy the one is in the picture. The other little fellow will soon take his turn. See how straight he holds his tail up. Find out all you can about these Wrens. You notice they have long bills. We call them Long-billed Marsh Wrens. There are several other kinds. You surely must have seen their cousins, the House Wrens. I will show you their pictures some day.

Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris) by Ian

Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris) by Ian

Lee’s Addition:

This Wren, the Marsh Wren, belongs to the Troglodytidae – Wrens Family. There are actually three families that Wrens show up in: the Troglodytidae – Wrens; New Zealand Wrens – Acanthisittidae; Australasian Wrens – Maluridae (Fairywrens, Emu-Wrens, Grasswren). There are other birds with Wren in the names like; Wrenthrush, Wren-babblers, Wren-Spinetail, Wren-Warblers. “There are approximately 80 species of true wrens in approximately 20 genera.” There is a slight difference in the Eastern and western populations of the Marsh Wren. Their songs are the biggest difference. The eastern wrens are more musical than the western ones.

The Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris) is a small North American songbird of the wren family. It is sometimes called Long-billed Marsh Wren to distinguish it from the Sedge Wren, also known as Short-billed Marsh Wren.

Adults have brown upperparts with a light brown belly and flanks and a white throat and breast. The back is black with white stripes. They have a dark cap with a white line over the eyes and a short thin bill.

The male’s song is a loud gurgle used to declare ownership of territory; western males have a more varied repertoire.

Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell; they sing among the branches. (Psalms 104:12 ESV)

Their breeding habitat is marshes with tall vegetation such as cattails across North America. In the western United States, some birds are permanent residents. Other birds migrate to marshes and salt marshes in the southern United States and Mexico. These birds forage actively in vegetation, sometimes flying up to catch insects in flight. They mainly eat insects, also spiders and snails.

The nest is an oval lump attached to marsh vegetation, entered from the side. The clutch is normally 4–6 eggs, though the number can range from 3–10. The male builds many unused nests in his territory; he may puncture the eggs of other birds nesting nearby.

Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris) by Daves BirdingPix

Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris) by Daves BirdingPix


Birds Illustrated by Color Photograhy Vol 1 April 1897 No 4 – Cover


Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited – Introduction

The above article is the first article in the monthly serial for February 1897 “designed to promote Knowledge of Bird-Live.” These include Color Photography, as they call them, today they are drawings. There are at least three Volumes that have been digitized by Project Gutenberg.

To see the whole series of – Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited


(Information from Wikipedia and other internet sources)

Next Article – The Arizona Green Jay

Previous Article – The Bohemian Wax-Wing

Wordless Birds


Marsh Wrens – All About Birds

Marsh Wren – Birdweb


Ad for Birds Illustrated, 1897

Ad for Birds Illustrated, 1897


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