Birds – Short-billed Marsh Wren

(Cistothorus stellaris)

Length—4 to 5 inches. Actually about one-third smaller than the English sparrow, but apparently only half its size.

Male and Female—Brown above, faintly streaked with white, black, and buff. Wings and tail barred with same. Underneath white, with buff and rusty tinges on throat and breast. Short bill.

Range—North America, from Manitoba southward in winter to Gulf of Mexico. Most common in north temperate latitudes. Migrations—Early May. Late September.

Where red-winged blackbirds like to congregate in oozy pastures or near boggy woods, the little short-billed wren may more often be heard than seen, for he is more shy, if possible, than his long-billed cousin, and will dive down into the sedges at your approach, very much as a duck disappears under water. But if you see him at all, it is usually while swaying to and fro as he clings to some tall stalk of grass, keeping his balance by the nervous, jerky tail motions characteristic of all the wrens, and singing with all his might. Oftentimes his tail reaches backward almost to his head in a most exaggerated wren-fashion.

Samuels explains the peculiar habit both the long-billed and the short-billed marsh wrens have of building several nests in one season, by the theory that they are made to protect the sitting female, for it is noticed that the male bird always lures a visitor to an empty nest, and if this does not satisfy his curiosity, to another one, to prove conclusively that he has no family in prospect.

Wild rice is an ideal nesting place for a colony of these little marsh wrens. The home is made of sedge grasses, softly lined with the softer meadow grass or plant-down, and placed in a tussock of tall grass, or even upon the ground. The entrance is on the side. But while fond of moist places, both for a home and feeding ground, it will be noticed that these wrens have no special fondness for running water, so dear to their long-billed relatives. Another distinction is that the eggs of this species, instead of being so densely speckled as to look brown, are pure white.