A Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris, formerly known as the Long-billed Marsh Wren) sits in the drying fall rushes, silent for the moment. Difficult to spot amid low vegetation, it is their bubbly song or sharp call that gives them away. While you’ve likely seen this little bird straddling dry bull rush or cattail stems and sounding its alarm call near a pathway or boardwalk, they use dense Hardhack extensively as their year-round habitat (there is an excellent study on the distribution of wetland birds in the marshes of Pitt Meadows- click here for more…). This bird is seldom found anywhere other than wetlands with emergent vegetation and deeper water.
The photograph pictured above has been selected for the intimate and sensitive view we’re given of a bird that often flits about aggressively in dense thickets and marshes. This gentle moment captured by photographer Brian Hampson is not a usual site. These wrens are typically fast moving and competitive: they’ll glean spiders and other insects off the surface of water or from bullrush stems in the blink of an eye! The females are known to destroy the eggs of their own and other species, too.
The strategic nature of this bird is also visible in its nesting habits. The male Marsh Wren builds between 14 and 22 dummy nests to avoid predators. He then shows these nests off to his female partners (yes, they are polygamous) who select their favourite and line it with fine grasses, fluff from nearby plants and feathers. If you have the opportunity to see one of these nests, you’ll notice the male’s intricate weaving abilities in the way he composes the oval mass from sedges, grasses and cattails. They’re usually anchored to stems and standing vegetation 1-3 feet off the ground. The male will only help to feed the brood of baby birds later in the season when he knows that there is a lower chance of finding another mate.
We thank this week’s photographer for submitting such a lovely view of this otherwise sprightly little wetland bird. You can find more of his photographs under the name DragonSpeed. To see the growing collection of photographs submitted to the BC Wetlands Photo group (or to add your own images!) click here. If you’d like to learn more about the Marsh Wren and its habitat in our province, see the Royal BC Museum’s website.