Small Marshland Birds

In addition to the large and medium sized birds such as the Swamphens, Moorhens, Herons, Egrets and Bitterns, Rails, Crakes and Snipes “birders” visiting marshland areas will have been aware of smaller birds which favour this habitat. I am carrying out a review of the smaller birds found in this habitat. This is an ongoing task which has accounted for 50 species so far.

New World Region.

Perhaps the most well known small Marshland Birds in this region are the Icterid Blackbirds and the Water Thrushes.

Icterid Blackbirds.


For me the Red-winged Blackbird (right) is typical of these birds. Tom photographed this one when we were in the Sweetwater Wetlands, Tucson, Arizona. These birds are readily found in North and Central America. It prefers wetlands and inhabits both freshwater and saltwater marshes and breeds in cattail marshes. It is omnivorous feeding primarily on plant materials, including seeds from weeds and waste grain such as corn and rice, but about a quarter of its diet consists of insects and other small animals, and considerably more so during breeding season.


I have reviewed various species in family Icteridae and found that at least 10 species (and I will almost certainly add more) favour marshy and swampy habitats where they have been able to establish their own niches:-

The Saffron-cowled Blackbird is found in Argentina, Brazil, andUraguay. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical dry lowland grassland, subtropical or tropical seasonally wet or flooded lowland grassland, and pastureland.

The Yellow-winged Blackbird is found in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay. Its natural habitats are swamps, intertidal marshes, and pastureland.


The Pale-eyed Blackbird is found in Ecuador and Peru. Its natural habitat is swamps.

The Unicoloured Blackbird is found in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay. Its natural habitat is swamps.

The Yellow-hooded Blackbird (above, left) is found in grassy and brush areas near water in northern South America, and is generally fairly common. This one was photographed at Charlieville in Trinidad.

The Chestnut-capped Blackbird is found in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, French Guiana, Paraguay, and Uruguay. Its natural habitats are swamps and pastureland.

The Rusty Blackbird specialises by feeding in forest ponds and wooded swamps. It feeds largely on aquatic invertebrates found by flipping over leaves at the waters edge. It also probes into the mud to find invertebrates.

The Yellow-rumped Marshbird is found in Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay. Its natural habitats are dry savanna swamps and pastureland.

The Bobolink (right) of North America migrates to Argentina, Bolivia, and Paraguay. Each fall, Bobolinks gather in large numbers in South American rice fields, where they are inclined to eat grain. This has earned them the name "ricebird" in these parts. I photgraphed this one in a field of tall grasses at Brigatine in New Jersey.


Water Thrushes.

The two Water Thrushes are currently listed in family Parulidae, the New World Warblers.
The Northern Waterthrush (left) breeds in the northern part of North America in Canada, and in the northern United States. It prefers stagnant, swampy waters and is generally a more terrestrial forager. I photographed this one in Costa Rica.

The Louisiana Waterthrush breeds in eastern North America from southernmost Canada and south through the eastern USA, excluding Florida and the coast. Louisiana Waterthrushes prefer dense vegetation along the water's edge for nesting, since this provides the main protection of nest from predation.

Water Tyrants.


The following three species are listed in family Tyrannidae, the New World Flycatchers.

The Pied Water Tyrant (right) is found in the edges of swamps and marshy savannahs in Central Amerca. I photographed this one at Aripo in Trinidad.

Black-backed Water Tyrant – found in swamps in South America.

White-headed Marsh Tyrant – found in marshy savannahs and reedbeds in South America.

Old World Region.

In this region of the world the smaller Marshland Birds are typified by some of the Warblers, Cisticolas, Flycatchers and the well known Bearded Reedling.


The sub-habitats and niches which some 29 of these species occupy are listed below:-


Eurasian Reed Warbler – found in reed-beds with tall vegetation in the Western Palearctic.

Great Reed Warbler (left) – is found in reed-beds and brush near water in Eurasia. I took this photograph during a birding trip to Hungary.


Marsh Warbler – found in tall growth in marshes and along rivers in Western Eurasia.

Sedge Warbler (right) – is found in reed-beds and marshes with tall vegetation throughout Eurasia. This one was also photographed in Hungary.

Blyth’s Reed Warbler – found in wet shrubby thickets and tall growth in marshes in Eurasia.

African Reed Warbler (below, left) – is found in reed-beds and swampy areas and was photographed in South Africa.


Lesser Swamp Warbler (below, right) – found in reeds and bull-rushes in South Africa.

I photographed this bird while we were en route from Keekorok to Nairobi in Kenya.


Greater Swamp Warbler – found in papyrus swamps in central South Africa.

Moustached Warbler – found in reeds and sedge in the Southern Palearctic.

Aquatic Warbler (below, left) – found in fresh-water marshland in the Western Palearctic. During a birding trip to Hungary we were taken by a local bider to a specific area where this bird was known to be present. After about half an hour in rather wet grassland I managed to get a couple of photographs.


River Warbler – found in dense, tangled vegetation along streams and rivers and in marshes and bogs in Europe.

Savi’s Warbler – found in rushes and sedges in shallow water in Eurasia.

Speckled Reed Warbler – found in reed-beds, bogs, rice and millet fields in China.

Black-browed Reed Warbler – found in reed-beds, wetland meadows, sedge and willow scrub in East Asia.

Paddyfield Warbler – found in reed-beds and grassy swamps in Central Eurasia.

Blunt-winged Warbler – found in open reed-beds, sedges and grasses near to water in Southern Asia.

Oriental Reed Warbler – found in reed-beds or brush near water in Siberia, China, Korea and Japan.

Basra Reed Warbler – found in reed-beds or near water in Southern Iraq.


Clamorous Reed Warbler – found in reed-beds, papyrus swamps and mangroves in the Southern Palearctic.

Thick-billed Warbler – found in reeds and damp meadows in East Asia.

Marsh Grassbird – found in reed-beds in Southern Asia.

Striated Grassbird – found in reed-beds in Asia.

Bristled Grassbird – found in swamps and rice fields in Asia.

Rufous-rumped Grassbird – found in thick grass and reed-beds in Southern Asia.

Cape Grassbird (right) –found in long, rank grass in South Africa. I had to get down on my hands and knees in the reeds to get this photograph at the Helderberg Bird Reserve.

Lanceolated Warbler – found in reed-beds, paddy fields and marshlands in Asia.

Common Grasshopper Warbler – found in rank vegetation and reed-bed fringes in Africa and India.

Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler – found in tall grass and tussocks in wet meadows. This bird breeds in Eat Asia. One of the best places to see this skulking species as a vagrant is Fair Isle, Shetland.

Middendorff’s Grasshopper Warbler – found in damp grass and thickets near water. It is found in Brunei, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, Russia and Taiwan.


These are mainly birds of Africa with a few in Europe and Asia.


Pale-crowned Cisticola – damp, marshy upland areas

Red-faced Cisticola – grassland and swamps.

Chirping Cisticola – grassland and swamps.

Levaillant’s Cisticola (left) - is common in reedbeds, sedges, rank grass, and similar wet habitats usually near rivers or dams. It is vocal and conspicuous, perching on the top of tall grass stems and reeds and making its alarm call.

Croaking Cisticola - is found in rank grassland habitats, often near swamps or water in Africa south of the Sahara.

Flycatchers and Babblers.


Old World Flycatchers are listed in family Muscicapidae.

Swamp Flycatcher – found in moist grassland and swamps.

Bearded Reedling (right) -is listed in family Timaliidae, the Babblers and Parrotbills found in temperate Europe and Asia. It is a wetland specialist, breeding colonially in large reed-beds by lakes or swamps. It eats reed aphids in summer, and reed seeds in winte.