Not As Cute Anymore. . .

The western meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta) with its cheery yellow color and melodious song has always been one of my favorite birds. Then one day I watched a meadowlark kill a small songbird. That made me rethink the meadowlark as a favorite bird. It still is!! That wonderful song overrides other considerations.

So when I discovered that another of my favorite birds, the marsh wren (Cistothorus paluatris), also has murderous tendencies I was disillusioned. This tiny, highly vocal wren with its upturned tail shares the nearby cattail marshes with blackbirds, red-winged and yellow-headed. In constant motion, one cannot help but fall in love with this cute little bird.

When I read that yellow-headed blackbirds (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus) are aggressive toward marsh wrens I became curious and did further research. Indeed, marsh wren males attack and destroy the eggs and nestlings of neighboring birds, particularly yellow-headed blackbirds. It is amazing that this little dynamo will assail the nest of a bird twice its size. No wonder yellow-heads are belligerent toward marsh wrens.

This aggressive behavior is theorized to occur in an attempt to reduce food competition in an area. Yet a male marsh wren will even attack its own eggs when the female is away from the nest, a behavior that is more difficult to understand. I did not discover the reason for destroying its own offspring, however, perhaps it only does so during times of food stress.

These marsh wrens were photographed at Ash Creek Wildlife Area (Modoc County CA). In spite of their behavior, marsh wrens continue to be one of my favorite birds.

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