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Sedge Wren

Sedge Wren
Photo by National Park Service.

Scientific name: Cistothorus platensis

New York Status: Threatened
Federal Status: Not Listed


Formerly known as the short-billed marsh wren, the sedge wren is a rare and local breeder found in wet fields and marshes. It is a small wren measuring 4 to 5 inches with brown upperparts, buff to white underparts, and pale streaks on the back and crown. Sexes are similar and the juvenile is similar to adult except darker above. Tail is short with black barring and held upright. It is distinguished from other wrens since it has no white eye stripe and its song which is a distinctive trill preceded by 2 or 3 chips.

Life History

Sedge wren range map
Sedge wren range map from Birds of the World,
maintained by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Males arrive on breeding grounds before the females and establish territories that are used for courtship, nesting and foraging. Males will construct multiple nests within their territory and the female will choose one for nesting and line it with grasses, feathers and fur. The nest consists of a ball of woven grasses at a height of 4 to 35.5 inches above the ground and within close proximity to muddy ground or shallow water.

Both males and females will destroy the nests of conspecifics (members of the same species) and other species nearby by piercing the eggs with their sharp bills. The female will lay a clutch of 2 to 8 eggs which she alone will incubate for 13 to 16 days. Young hatch completely naked and blind and are cared for mostly by the female although the male may participate in some of the feeding. After 12 to 14 days the young will leave the nest but remain in the nesting area until fall migration.

Distribution and Habitat

As its name implies, the sedge wren breeds in wet meadows or hayfields dominated by sedges and grasses. A short distance migrant, the sedge wren winters in the southeastern United States and breeds in the north central U. S. and central Canada. The wintering range extends from coastal Virginia south to Florida and west to southern Oklahoma, Texas and eastern Mexico. The breeding range covers southern Canada and the north central United States west to eastern Montana, and east to New York. The sedge wren exhibits low site fidelity to nesting sites due to their sensitivity to changes in water level and vegetation.


Previously listed as a species of special concern, the sedge wren is now considered a threatened species in New York State. It is a very rare and local breeder and has experienced population declines throughout its breeding range. New York records are mostly from the St. Lawrence Valley and the Lake Ontario Plain. In the Northeast the sedge wren is a species of management concern.

Management and Research Needs

Two maps of New York State showing the distribution of sedge wren
Distribution of sedge wren in New York
from 1st and 2nd NYS Breeding Bird Atlas records.

The biggest threat to sedge wren populations is the loss of breeding habitat due to the draining of wetlands. Further research is needed on the extent of movement by sedge wrens during the breeding season.