New York Natural Heritage Program
Sedge Wren
Cistothorus platensis (Latham, 1790)
Birds

General Description [-]
The Sedge Wren is small brown wren with a streaked back and head.

Identifying Characteristics [-]
The Sedge Wren is a small brown wren with a white-streaked back and top of the head. It has a whitish eyebrow that is not a distinct stripe. The throat and belly are whitish with some light brown on the sides and underneath the tail. The rump, top of the tail, and wings are barred with black. The song is described as a "dry stacatto chattering" (Peterson 1980).

Characters Most Useful for Identification [-]
The Sedge Wren is a small wren in wet meadow habitat with a streaked back and crown.

Behavior [-]
Males are territorial during the breeding season although boundaries often shift over the season (Burns 1982). Site fidelity is low in this species, meaning birds may not return to the same location each year which is likely an adaption to breeding in ephemeral habitats (Gibbs and Martin 1992). Local abundances may fluctuate between years and in a given year seemingly suitable habitat may be unoccupied (Andrle and Carroll 1988). During nesting, both sexes have been documented to pierce the eggs of other Sedge Wrens and other species that nest nearby (Picman and Picman 1980). A portion of males (about 20-25%) are polygynous and may have a second female. Pairs may or may not be monogamous for the breeding season and a female mated to a polygynous was documented to attempt a second brood with a different mate (Burns 1992). Females feed the nestlings and males do only occasionally.

Diet [-]
There is not a lot of information on what Sedge Wrens eat. It is known that they mainly forage on the ground in an inconspicuous manner that has been described as "mouse-like" (Howell 1932, Walkinshaw 1935). They eat a variety of insects and spiders (Terres 1980) and take their prey from moist soils and among the bases of grasses and sedges.
Sedge Wren Images
click to enlarge
The Best Time to See
Nesting phenology, or timing of life stages, for Sedge Wrens may be related to latitude (Schneider and Pence 1992). In parts of the state, territories may not be established until July (Andrle and Carroll 1988). There is some evidence that breeding individuals from the upper midwest could expand into the southern and northeastern parts of the range by July for a second nesting period (Herkert et al. 2001). Look for breeding sedge wrens during the spring and summer from May through September and perhaps especially in July and August.
J F M A M J J A S O N D
Present Breeding
The time of year you would expect to find Sedge Wren present (blue shading) and breeding (orange shading) in New York.
Similar Species
  • Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris)
    The two species can gererally be distinguished by habitat. Marsh Wrens are found in marshes with reeds and tall grasses and also cattail marshes that are usually inundated with water. Sedge wrens are found in sedge meadows and prefer moist sites with dispersed small shrubs that lack a lot of standing water. Althought the two birds do look similar, Sedge Wrens are smaller with a streaked crown, less solid white eyebrow, and shorter bill. The two species also have distinct songs.