Marsh Wren Building A Nest And Singing

by Larry Jordan on February 28, 2010

Marsh Wren Singing and Nest Building photos by Larry Jordan

I was able to visit Delevan and Sacramento National Wildlife Refuges Saturday and was able to witness something I had never seen, a Marsh Wren building a nest.  There were Marsh Wrens singing everywhere during my visit, wherever the bulrushes grew, they were singing.  Here is a sample of what these busy little birds sound like from [audio:]

As with the Bewick’s Wren, only the male Marsh Wren sings, and he is a very prolific singer with a repertoire of up to 200 songs!  According to Cornell Lab, about 50% of males are also polygynous, they simultaneously mate with two or more females.  I have to believe that this has something to do with all the singing.

This also probably has something to do with the male’s extensive nest building.  The male Marsh Wren, on average, will build a dozen nests from which the female may choose.  I discovered this fellow below the viewing platform at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Saturday.

He was singing away as he brought in water-soaked strips of grass or cattail leaves to line the nest.  One of the most interesting things I noticed looking at my photos when I got home was the way he used his wing like an arm to hold on to the support structure as he went into the nest to place the building materials.

He would spend a few moments inside arranging the new addition and then pop back out…

Sit on the branch and sing for his mate.

When I finally decided that I needed to take a video of this encounter, I only got a short song at the end, not nearly as complex as the songs he was singing as I took the photos but if you look closely, you can see him shaping the inside of the nest as he moves in front of the entrance before sticking his head out.

For more great bird photos, check out Bird Photography Weekly!

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

eileen March 1, 2010 at 1:33 am

Hi Larry, neat sighting, it must have been cool to watch the wren building it nest and then to sing for his mate. Great series of photos!
.-= eileen´s last blog ..Barnaget Lighthouse and beach =-.


d March 1, 2010 at 4:02 am

Fantastic post and pics, must have been great to watch.

.-= d´s last blog ..Wordless Wednesday =-.


Jill March 1, 2010 at 11:08 am

that’s awesome, Larry! Really neat you got to see him build. It’s always fun to find birds making their nests. Marsh wrens are so hyper I only ever get glimpses of them. Great set of photos and I love the video, too!
.-= Jill´s last blog ..Trillium! =-.


Mick March 1, 2010 at 12:29 pm

A very interesting description of the behavior of that little wren. Your photos and video illustrate it really well.
.-= Mick´s last blog ..Female Zebra Finch =-.


chris March 2, 2010 at 7:31 am

Already ready to nest!!! Well i guess our common wren are not ready at all as we are now having tons of snow 😉 A pretty good post you got there, it is giving a lot of information on this very nice but really hard to get pictures of, species.
.-= chris´s last blog ..We are under…./Nous sommes sous….. =-.


Lana March 2, 2010 at 9:40 pm

We have a local pair of Carolina wrens that like nesting in our shed. They raised 2 broods out there last year. 🙂
.-= Lana´s last blog ..Getting Out =-.


NicoleB March 2, 2010 at 11:58 pm

WOW, the nest building process is amazing – you were so lucky :D!
And 200 songs? That’s more than I can even whistle 😛
.-= NicoleB´s last blog ..Surprise surprise =-.


Joan March 7, 2010 at 1:21 pm

Great series of photos!
.-= Joan´s last blog ..Kayaking: Why I Row… =-.


Maria Berg March 8, 2010 at 6:56 am

I did see a Wren here today when I was out walking but I have not seen then buildning nest jet.
Hummingbird We do not have them here but I seen one in Bolovia.

Maria Berg, Sweden
.-= Maria Berg´s last blog ..278. Staty =-.


Amber Coakley March 8, 2010 at 7:35 pm

“they simultaneously mate with two or more females. I have to believe that this has something to do with all the singing.”

Ha! You’re probably right, Larry! I guess all of that nest-building goes to good use if the male has several lady-friends.

I see you’ve got video now! I want to do that too, someday. I remember you asked me once if my Nikon D300 had video – it was the D300-S that included the ability to record video. (Don’t ask me why they didn’t call it the D300-V) Anyway, I love the combination of photos and videos in your post – looking forward to more of these!
.-= Amber Coakley´s last blog ..Challenge for Charity – March, 2010 =-.


Don Denver August 27, 2010 at 1:53 pm

Sorry to be so late to the party but somehow I stumbled on to this post and found it very entertaining.

From the pictures to the video I definitely learned a few things about the Marsh Wren.

Being someone who loves to sing myself, I couldn’t help but chuckle at the correlations of birds to humans.

We too (guys) will sing our hearts out to attract a few lady friends, hoping that they will be so impressed with our musical talents that we won’t have to jump through as many hoops as this poor little guy does. lol

Thanks for the education.
I really enjoyed it.

.-= Don Denver´s last blog ..Effective Tips to Take Part in a Singing Class =-.

Reply December 12, 2010 at 9:31 am

The photograph of this bird ‘grasping’ (can you call it that?) the branch as it placed nesting material is really special. I have never heard of such a thing, particularly in this context. I discovered a while ago that House Wren males, and probably Marsh Wrens as well, not only sing to attract as many mates as they possibly can, but they also try to influence the females with their nest building skills. It all boils down to territory really and males are known to build many more nests than will ever actually be used. Curiously enough, these nest even serve as a sign to competing males that a territory has been staked out. The nests that a male puts just enough effort into to make them resemble nests and never actually get completed are sometimes referred to as “dummy nests”.


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