Marsh Wren: A very vocal, perky fellow

You hear them long before you can locate where they’re at. This little “bundle-of-energy” builds a large nest for such a small bird. The nest hangs between the Bulrushes or Cattails – the habitat which they prefer. The nest is domed, but has a hole in the side for entrance. The male builds the nest. In fact, he builds several nests in hopes that one of them will appeal to a female. Or better yet – several females will be attracted to his nests. The female, after nest selection, will line it with soft materials.

It may be a little brown bird (4-5”), but it’s anything but dull. Like other wrens, its tail is striped with crossways bands and points straight up into the air. This gives the bird a very saucy demeanor. It’s an energetic singer, rarely quiet for very long. Both sexes sing. The male sings long and loud to proclaim his territory, and a softer, quieter song for courtship. The female’s song, while sitting on the nest, is the softest of all.

The female alone, incubates the eggs – which may be as many as 8 to 10 in temperate zones or as few as 2 or 3 in hot areas. Two weeks of incubation and two weeks to fledging is normal. The male helps in the feeding of the chicks, and they raise more than one brood each year.

A photo file of marsh species is not complete without a picture of this saucy little bird. They bob up and down through the marsh sedges, and you must be quick to catch one out in the open.

(This one was captured by sitting in a blind on the water’s edge)

Yellow-Headed Blackbirds: Lords of the Cattail Realm

When out and about in marshes, you might hear what sounds as if a creature is vomiting. Look around, you will most likely see cattails and perched on those plants will be birds with orangey-yellow heads and chests. The sounds emitted will be constant, loud, and very distinctive. You are now in contact with Yellow-Headed Blackbirds. They are birds that are tightly linked to cattail stands.

This species is unmistakable with its bright head and large white wing patch (visible when in flight). The female has the same color pattern but it is much duller. Red-Winged Blackbirds and Marsh Wrens use the same habitat. Yellow-Heads are very aggressive toward the little Marsh Wren to keep them in their place. A polygamous species, the male may have up to 8 mates within his territory. Their nests are cup-shaped and woven around the stems of the sedges. He will help feed the nestlings in the first nest constructed, but the other females are on their own. They eat a large amount of insects and are very helpful to humans by eating insects, like grasshoppers, that are potentially harmful to crops.

When I used to teach biology, this bird was always visible when taking students on field trips. Needless to say, its bright colors and unusual song caused more than the usual interest for the students.

Watching over his territory