Sedge Wren

Cistothorus stellaris (Naumann, 1823)

Sedge Wren

Aves (Birds)
Troglodytidae (Wrens)
State Protection
Listed as Threatened by New York State: likely to become Endangered in the foreseeable future. For animals, taking, importation, transportation, or possession is prohibited, except under license or permit. For plants, removal or damage without the consent of the landowner is prohibited.
Federal Protection
Migratory Bird Treaty Act
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act implements various treaties and conventions between the U. S. and Canada, Japan, Mexico and the former Soviet Union for the protection of migratory birds. Under this Act, taking, killing, or possessing migratory birds, including nests or eggs, is unlawful unless specifically permitted by other regulations.
State Conservation Status Rank
Vulnerable in New York - Vulnerable to disappearing from New York due to rarity or other factors (but not currently imperiled); typically 21 to 80 populations or locations in New York, few individuals, restricted range, few remaining acres (or miles of stream), and/or recent and widespread declines. (A migratory animal which occurs in New York only during the breeding season.)
Global Conservation Status Rank
Secure globally - Common in the world; widespread and abundant (but may be rare in some parts of its range).


Did you know?

Sedge Wrens may exhibit unusal breeding behavior. Some individuals from the upper midwest are suspected to travel and expand into the southern and northeastern parts of their range in July for a second nesting period (Herkert et al. 2001).

State Ranking Justification

New York is not in the core of this species range and it is considered a local breeder. Additionally, the loss of wetlands due to draining for development and agriculture has likely impacted the populations historically known from the lower Hudson Valley and Long Island (Herkert el al. 2001). Currently, there are 44 documented breeding populations in New York (New York Natural Heritage Program 2019). More sites are likely to exist in Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties, although it is unknown how many are occupied each year. The number of confirmed or probable atlas blocks increased from 34 blocks in the first Breeding Bird Atlas (1980-1985) to 48 in the second (2000-2005). Although the differences may be the result of lower coverage in the first atlas (McGowan and Corwin 2008).

Short-term Trends

Breeding Bird Survey data has documented rangewide population increases from 1966 to 1996 largely due to increasing numbers in the Great Plains from habitat reserve programs (Herkert et al. 2001). However, this does not hold true in New York. There was only a small increase in the number of blocks between the first (1980-1985) and second (2000-2005) Breeding Bird Atlas Projects (McGowan and Corwin 2008). Between 1960 and 1974 the colonies located on Long Island and in the lower Hudson area were extirpated. There are only a few known occurences of breeding individuals in southeastern New York since 1980 including in the Hudson area (Herkert et al. 2001).

Long-term Trends

The long term trends are unknown. However, loss of wet meadow habitat to agriculture and development and draining wetlands likely impacted this species historically in New York. Levine (1998) reported that the Sedge Wren has likely been extripated from a substantial part of the state, however, reports of early ornithologists indicate that this species has occured in low numbers and locally for at least the past hundred years (DeKay 1844, Eaton 1914).

Conservation and Management


Habitat loss, including draining wetlands for development and agriculture, is a historical and present threat. Habitat loss can occur as wet sedge meadow succeed into shrubby areas. Harvesting of hay can destroy nests and kill adults. Migration collisions with towers and buildings has also been reported (Herkert et al. 2001).

Conservation Strategies and Management Practices

Preservation of nesting habitat is perhaps the most pressing need in New York. The integrity of wetland ecosystems should be maintained. Flooding, draining, and overgrazing can destroy nesting habitat and should be prevented during the nesting season. Riparian-zone management strategies at state and federal owned areas can be adjusted to preserve or create wet meadows and grasslands adjacent to impoundments and other wetlands (Schneider and Pence 1992). Incompatible agricultural practices, such as mowing and haying during the breeding season should be avoided (Herkert et al. 2001).

Research Needs

More research is needed on movements within the range during the breeding season. Also, research is needed on population status at locations on the periphery of the range including monitoring the status of declining northeastern populations (Herkert et al. 2001).



Sedge Wrens occur in moist meadows with scattered low bushes, grass and sedge bogs as well as coastal brackish marshes where saltmeadow cordgrass (Spartina patens) is dominant. They may also use the upland margins of ponds. Breeding habitats have dispersed small shrubs and little, if any, standing water. Birds may abandon sites that become too wet or too dry. Sedge Wrens nest in dense, tall grass and sedge clumps or hummocks, 2-12" above ground or water level (Bull 1974). Occasionally, they may nest on the ground, in a small bush, or at the base of a small tree (Herkert et al. 2001).

Associated Ecological Communities

  • Cropland/field crops
    An agricultural field planted in field crops such as alfalfa, wheat, timothy, and oats. This community includes hayfields that are rotated to pasture.
  • Dwarf shrub bog (guide)
    A wetland usually fed by rainwater or mineral-poor groundwater and dominated by short, evergreen shrubs and peat mosses. The surface of the peatland is usually hummocky, with shrubs more common on the hummocks and peat moss throughout. The water in the bog is usually nutrient-poor and acidic.
  • Floodplain grassland* (guide)
    A somewhat densely vegetated, tall grassland community that occurs on the floodplains along the upper reaches of larger confined rivers. This community occurs on relatively stable sand/gravel or cobble substrate that is often visible between the clump forming grasses. These floodplain shores and islands are typically broad and the soil is coarse and dry. These grasslands are subject to flooding and ice scour, but ice floes usually do not persist into spring as in riverside ice meadows.
  • Inland salt marsh* (guide)
    A wetland that occurs on saline mudflats associated with inland salt springs. The mucky substrate is permanently saturated and seasonally flooded. Plant cover is sparse and the number of different kinds of plants is relatively low.
  • Medium fen (guide)
    A wetland fed by water from springs and seeps. These waters are slightly acidic (pH values generally range from 4.5 to 6.5) and contain some dissolved minerals. Plant remains in these fens do not decompose rapidly and thus the plants in these fens usually grow on older, undecomposed plant parts of woody material, grasses, and mosses.
  • Rich sloping fen (guide)
    A small, gently sloping wetland that occurs in a shallow depression on a slope composed of calcareous glacial deposits. Sloping fens are fed by small springs or groundwater seepage. Like other rich fens, their water sources have high concentrations of minerals and high pH values, generally from 6.0 to 7.8. They often have water flowing at the surface in small channels or rivulets.
  • Sedge meadow* (guide)
    A wet meadow community that has organic soils (muck or fibrous peat). Soils are permanently saturated and seasonally flooded. The dominant herbs must be members of the sedge family, typically of the genus Carex.
  • Shallow emergent marsh (guide)
    A marsh meadow community that occurs on soils that are permanently saturated and seasonally flooded. This marsh is better drained than a deep emergent marsh; water depths may range from 6 in to 3.3 ft (15 cm to 1 m) during flood stages, but the water level usually drops by mid to late summer and the soil is exposed during an average year.
  • Successional old field
    A meadow dominated by forbs and grasses that occurs on sites that have been cleared and plowed (for farming or development), and then abandoned or only occasionally mowed.

* probable association but not confirmed.

Associated Species

  • Henslow's Sparrow (Ammodramus henslowii) (guide)
  • Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum) (guide)
  • Northern Harrier (Circus hudsonius) (guide)
  • Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis)
  • Dickcissel (Spiza americana)


New York State Distribution

In New York, Sedge Wrens are most commonly found on the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence plains. There are fewer and irregular reports from the Lower Hudson River and Champlain valleys and the Allegheny Plateau. They are absent from the Adirondacks and Catskills, and are historically known from Long Island. Sedge Wrens do not overwinter in New York except irregularly; two records exist from Jones Beach and Westhampton Beach on Long Island.

Global Distribution

The breeding range of the Sedge Wren extends from southeastern Saskatchewan, central Manitoba, southern Ontario, and central Maine to eastern Kansas, central Missouri, central Indiana and Virginia. It has also nested in small numbers in recent years in New Brunswick and possibly Nova Scotia. Throughout its range the Sedge Wren is sparsely and locally distributed (Gibbs 1992). In the northeastern U.S., tidewater marshes in New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia currently support the largest, most stable populations (Gibbs and Melvin 1992). Northern populations winter from Maryland and Tennessee south to Mexico and east to Florida (Levine 1998).

Best Places to See

  • Fort Edward Grasslands (Washington County)
  • Oak Orchard Wildlife Management Area (Genesee, Orleans Counties)
  • damp fields in Jefferson County, especially between Antwerp and Philadelphia (Jefferson County)

Identification Comments

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). Males build several nests for the female to choose and she lines it with grasses, feathers, and fur. Two to eight white eggs are laid.

Characters Most Useful for Identification

The Sedge Wren is a small wren with a streaked back and crown. They tend to be found in found in wet meadow habitat, whereas other wrens typically use different habitat types.


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.


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.

Best Time to See

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.

  • Active
  • Reproducing

The time of year you would expect to find Sedge Wren active and reproducing in New York.

Similar Species

  • Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris)
    The two species can generally 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. Although 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.

Sedge Wren Images


Sedge Wren
Cistothorus stellaris (Naumann, 1823)

  • Kingdom Animalia
    • Phylum Craniata
      • Class Aves (Birds)
        • Order Passeriformes (Perching Birds)
          • Family Troglodytidae (Wrens)


  • Cistothorus platensis (Latham, 1790)

Additional Resources


American Ornithologists' Union (AOU). 1983. Check-list of North American Birds, 6th edition. Allen Press, Inc., Lawrence, Kansas. 877 pp.

Andrle, Robert F. and Janet R. Carroll, editors. 1988. The atlas of breeding birds in New York State. Cornell University Press. 551 pp.

Bent, A.C. 1948. Life histories of North American nuthatches, wrens, thrashers, and their allies. U.S. National Museum Bulletin 195. Washington, DC.

Bull, John. 1974. Birds of New York State. Doubleday, Garden City, New York. 655 pp.


DeKay, J.E. 1844. Zoology of New York; or, the New York fauna. Part 2: Birds. D. Appelton, and Wiley and Putnam, New York.

Eaton, E.H. 1914. Birds of New York. Part II. New York: University of the State of New York.

Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1992. Birds in Jeopardy: the Imperiled and Extinct Birds of the United States and Canada, Including Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Stanford University Press, Stanford, California. 259 pp.

Gibbs, J. P., and S. M. Melvin. 1992. Sedge wren, Cistothorus platensis. Pages 191-209 in K. J. Schneider and D. M. Pence, editors. Migratory nongame birds of management concern in the Northeast. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Newton Corner, Massachusetts. 400 pp.

Harrison, C. 1978. A Field Guide to the Nests, Eggs and Nestlings of North American Birds. Collins, Cleveland, Ohio.

Herkert, J.R., D.E. Kroodsma, and J.P. Gibbs. 2001. Sedge wren (Cistothorus platensis). In the Birds of North America, No. 582 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.

Howell, A. H. 1932. Florida bird life. Coward-McCann, New York.

Jalava, J. 1993. Status report on the sedge wren Cistothorus platensis stellaris (Naumann) in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC), Ottawa, ON. 50 pp.

Johnson, D. H., and L. D. Igl. 1995. Contributions of the Conservation Reserve Program to populations of breeding birds in North Dakota. Wilson Bulletin 107:709-718.

Levine, E. 1998. Bull's birds of New York State. Comstock Publishing Associates, Ithaca, NY.

McGowan, K.J. and K. Corwin, eds. 2008. The Second Atlas of Breeding Birds in New York State: 2000-2005. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, NY. 688 pp.

National Geographic Society (NGS). 1999. Field guide to the birds of North America. Third edition. National Geographic Society, Washington, DC. 480 pp.

NatureServe. 2019. NatureServe Explorer: An online encyclopedia of life [web application]. Version 7.1. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2007. Biotics Database. Albany, NY.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2019. Biotics Database. Albany, NY.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2024. New York Natural Heritage Program Databases. Albany, NY.

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. 1986. New York State Breeding Bird Atlas Database. Wildlife Resources Center. Delmar, NY.

Peterson, R. T. 1980a. A Field Guide to the Birds East of the Rockies. Houghton Mifflin Company. 383 pp.

Picman, J., and A.K. Picman. 1980. Destruction of nests by the short-billed marsh wren. Condor 82:176-179.

Root, T. 1988. Atlas of wintering North American birds: An analysis of Christmas Bird Count data. University of Chicago Press. 336 pp.

Schneider, K.J., and D.M. Pence, editors. 1992. Migratory nongame birds of management concern in the Northeast. U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, Newton Corner, MA. 400 pp.

Stiles, F. G. and A. F. Skutch. 1989. A guide to the birds of Costa Rica. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, USA. 511 pp.

Terres, J. K. 1980. The Audubon Society encyclopedia of North American birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.

Walkinshaw, L. R. 1935. Studies of the short-billed marsh wren (Cistothorus stellaris) in Michigan. Wilson Bulletin 52:361-368.


About This Guide

This guide was authored by: Shaw, Hollie Y.

Information for this guide was last updated on: June 28, 2019

Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2024. Online Conservation Guide for Cistothorus stellaris. Available from: Accessed May 26, 2024.