Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Sedge Wren - Cistothorus stellaris
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General Comments Called the Short-billed Marsh Wren many decades ago, the Sedge Wren is now restricted just to North America; a similar taxon in South America -- formally lumped with Sedge Wren -- has been split out as the Grass Wren (C. platensis). As a result, Sedge Wren has a new scientific name -- C. stellaris. In North America, the Sedge Wren is generally uncommon and somewhat declining, as its marshy habitat in the Midwest is being drained and destroyed; some birds also nest east of the Appalachians, but to the north of North Carolina. A few summer birds have been reported, singing as if on territory, mainly near the coast, but breeding has never been proven in the state. Also, these appear to be "one-time-only" occurrences. Thus, it is clearly called a "nonbreeder" for now. Thankfully, the species winters along and near the coast, and is a transient inland. Wintering birds favor brackish and often shrubby marshes, such as the upper ends of tidal marshes, especially where there are shrubs such as Waxmyrtle and various woody composites. They also occur away from coastal marshes, but again where marshes tend to have a few scattered shrubs. Despite a global decline, such a decline in wintering birds in our state does not seem evident.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank SUB,S4N
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Winter resident eastward, but otherwise a scarce transient. Generally fairly common, to locally common, in winter along the coast and in the Tidewater zone close to Pamlico Sound; farther inland, probably rare but regular over the central portion of the region, but likely does not overwinter in the western portions. (Winter range is hard to define, as the species is secretive, and birders need to target marshy areas; also, as winter progresses, "abundance" decreases by the end of winter.) Scarce and hard to find in migration. A few summer records near the coast, but probably of males looking for mates; no records even close to suggest breeding. Published report of 12 or more birds singing in late Jul 1982-83 at Pamlico Point marshes (Pamlico) is stunning, as well as unprecedented; additional corroboration by other observers would have been helpful. Another "interesting" summer report was of 5 birds singing at the Voice of America facility in northwestern Beaufort [incorrectly listed as Washington in [Chat 85:163)] link] on 28 Jul 2021. Mainly late Sep to early May. Peak counts:
Piedmont Transient, and occasional straggler into winter. Generally rare (or at least secretive enough that it is rarely recorded) across the region, both in spring and fall. Less rare in the eastern portion, but still a good find. Mainly late Apr to mid-May, and late Aug to late Oct; at least 12 records in Dec and Jan, with a stunning 7 birds on the Lake Norman CBC, 19 Dec 2004. Three at McDowell Nature Preserve (Mecklenburg) on 12 Jan 2023 was an excellent count for midwinter. Likely does not overwinter (survive the entire winter) in the region. Peak counts:
Mountains Transient. Very rare (no records for many counties) to rare in spring and fall, mainly limited to low mountain valleys. Mainly late Apr to mid-May, and late Aug to late Oct. Peak counts:
Finding Tips The species is fairly easy in fall and winter in shrubby marshes, such as at Bodie Island (near the Lighthouse Pond boardwalk) and along the western side of NC 12 north of the lighthouse entrance road.
Attribution LeGrand[2023-05-19], LeGrand[2023-03-27], LeGrand[2021-11-07]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.