12 Impressive Types Of Marsh Birds

Written by Niccoy Walker
Published: December 30, 2022
© iStock.com/ps50ace
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Marshes are wetlands consisting of either freshwater or saltwater. Most of the marshes in the United States are on the eastern coast, from Maine to Florida and west to Texas along the Gulf Coast. If you’ve ever bird-watched in a marsh, you probably know some awe-inspiring creatures live there. Discover 12 impressive types of marsh birds, including where they live, what they eat, and how to identify them.

Marsh Wren

marsh wren
Small and plump, the marsh wren has short wings, a short tail, and a thin bill.


Location: The marsh wren lives in fresh and brackish marshes with plenty of cattails and bulrushes. You will find them year-round along the United State’s coastlines and migrating populations further inland.

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Appearance: Small and plump, the marsh wren has short wings, a short tail, and a thin bill. This wren is brown above and whitish below, with black streaking and white eyebrow stripes.

Diet: Insects, larvae, and spiders

Calls: Gurgling songs and mechanical chatters

Nest: Woven football-shaped mass anchored to cattails or bulrushes

Saltmarsh Sparrow

saltmarsh sparrow
Saltmarsh sparrows produce quiet, wheezy trills.


Location: Saltmarsh sparrows live along the eastern coast and inhabit saltwater marshes. But sometimes they may be found in freshwater adjacent to their regular marsh.

Appearance: This medium-sized bird has a long bill and a short tail. They are heavily streaked brown above and pale below, with orange faces. 

Diet: Insects, seeds, spiders, crabs, snails, and other invertebrates

Calls: Quiet, wheezy trills

Nest: Bulky open cup placed on standing plants above the normal tide mark

American Oystercatcher

cape may
American oystercatchers inhabit salt marshes, tidal flats, and coastal beaches.


Location: The American oystercatcher lives year-round along the east coast and the Gulf of Mexico. They inhabit salt marshes, tidal flats, and coastal beaches.

Appearance: The oystercatcher is a large shorebird with a large head, a long bill, and long legs. They have black heads, brown backs and wings, white undersides, red bills, and yellow eyes.

Diet: Shellfish and marine worms

Calls: Sharp, high-pitched “peeps”

Nest: Shallow scrape in the ground on marsh islands or dunes

Clapper Rail

clapper rail
Clapper rails live along the coasts in the southeast, where they inhabit salt marshes.


Location: They live along the coasts in the southeast, where they inhabit salt marshes and shallow mangrove swamps. You can occasionally find them in adjacent brackish marshes.

Appearance: This medium-sized marsh bird has a short tail and a long bill. They appear almost chicken-like and feature streaky brown bodies with orange beaks.

Diet: Crustaceans, insects, fish, and seeds

Calls: short grunting sounds

Nest: The nest is a cup of plant material located on clumps of marsh grass, often near the bank.

Greater Yellowlegs

greater yellowlegs
These large shorebirds have lanky bodies with long legs, long necks, and thick bills.


Location: The greater yellowlegs is a migratory bird that winters along the United State’s coasts. They inhabit both salt and freshwater marshes, mudflats, streams, ponds, estuaries, and beaches.

Appearance: These large shorebirds have lanky bodies with long legs, long necks, and thick bills. Their plumage is black and white checkered with darker feathers above and white below. Their bright yellow legs are their most notable feature.

Diet: Insects, small fish, crustaceans, and berries

Calls: Musical whistles and “tututu” calls

Nest: A shallow depression in the ground near the water

Belted Kingfisher

Belted kingfisher
Belted kingfishers live in most aquatic habitats, including marshes.

©Horse Crazy/Shutterstock.com

Location: The belted kingfisher will live in almost any aquatic habitat, such as lakes, bays, coasts, streams, and marshes. They live year-round through most of the country except for the far south, where they only spend winter.

Appearance: They are stocky birds with large heads and shaggy crests. They have bluish-gray heads, backs, and wings and feature white undersides with white collars.

Diet: Fish, aquatic insects, small mammals, lizards, and young birds

Calls: Loud rattles and scream calls

Nest: They nest in tunnels inside steep dirt banks.


Ospreys have excellent vision that can detect underwater objects from the air, and they catch fish by diving underwater, either foot first or by submerging their whole bodies.


Location: Ospreys are common around salt marshes and estuaries. But you can also find them near lakes, rivers, reservoirs, or anywhere else with water. They live year-round along the coasts in the southeast and spend spring and summers near northern shores in the east and west.

Appearance: They are very large hawks with long legs and narrow wings, often spotted by their “M” shaped wings during flight. Ospreys are brown above and white below. And their heads are white with dark bands.

Diet: Fish, small mammals, birds, and reptiles

Calls: Musical chirping, peeps, and squeals

Nest: Bulky pile of sticks on top of large trees

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) at Fort Myers Beach, Florida.
Great Blue Herons live in fresh or saltwater habitats.

©Brian Lasenby/Shutterstock.com

Location: These highly adaptable birds live in marshes, swamps, tideflats, bays, and shores. You can find them in either salt or freshwater year-round throughout the United States. 

Appearance: It is the largest North American heron and features long legs, an S-shaped neck, and a long, thick bill. They are bluish-gray all over with a long black stripe over the eye and an orange or yellow beak.

Diet: Fish, frogs, turtles, snakes, rodents, birds, and insects

Calls: Harsh squawks and croaks

Nest: A platform of sticks in trees or shrubs

Snowy Egret

Snowy Egret bird close-up profile view standing on moss rocks with foliage background, displaying white feathers, head, beak, eye, fluffy plumage, yellow feet in its environment and surrounding.
The snowy egret lives on the Gulf Coast year-round.

©iStock.com/Rejean Bedard

Location: Despite its name, the snowy egret lives in marshes, shores, and swamps along the southern coasts. You will find them in either fresh or saltwater habitats near the coasts or further inland in extensive wetland environments.

Appearance: These medium-sized herons have thin legs, long necks, and slender bills. The snowy egret features all-white plumage with black bills, black legs, and yellow feet.

Diet: Fish, insects, crustaceans, lizards, and rodents

Calls: Harsh squawks and gagging croaks

Nest: A platform of sticks in trees or shrubs

American Bittern

An American bittern standing by the water on a sunny day.
The American bittern lives in extensive freshwater marshes.

©iStock.com/Marianne Pfeil

Location: The American bittern favors freshwater marshes and reedy lakes. They like shallow wetlands with tall vegetation, like cattails and sedges. They live year-round along the west coast, but you can also find them inland during summer and along the east coast in winter.

Appearance: They are thick, medium-sized herons with short legs, thick necks, and straight bills. They feature streaky brown, buff, and white plumage and can be hard to spot among the marsh vegetation.

Diet: Fish, frogs, aquatic insects, crabs, rodents, and garter snakes

Calls: Low-frequency calls, clacking, and gulping

Nest: Grass platform in thick marsh growth

Sandhill Crane

Types of Crane birds - Sandhill Crane
Sandhill cranes breed in Canada, migrate through the central United States, and winter in the southern US and Mexico.


Location: These birds breed in Canada, migrate through the central United States, and winter in the southern US and Mexico. Look for them in marshes, fields, prairies, and tundra.

Appearance: Sandhill cranes are tall, bulky birds with long legs, broad wings, and slender necks. They are slate gray with black legs and red skin on their crowns.

Diet: Insects, aquatic plants, rodents, reptiles, baby birds, seeds, and berries

Calls: Loud rattling calls

Nest: Floating plant mound anchored to vegetation

Black-crowned Night Heron

A night heron waiting for a fish to swim by
The black-crowned night heron or black-capped night heron has white feathers on its breast along with greyish black wings.

©Nycticorax nycticorax/Shutterstock.com

Location: The black-crowned night heron is found in salt and freshwater aquatic habitats, such as marshes, shores, rivers, swamps, rice fields, and tide flats. They live year-round along the coasts and breed inland.

Appearance: These small, thick herons have large heads, thick necks, and heavy bills. They are light gray with black backs and black crowns. They also have yellow legs, black bills, and red eyes.

Diet: Fish, crustaceans, aquatic insects, frogs, snakes, rodents, and carrion

Calls: Loud barking squawks

Nest: Stick platforms placed on the ground or in trees and shrubs

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The Featured Image

clapper rail
A Clapper Rail wades in the shallow water in the soft light with its reflection in the calm water.
© iStock.com/ps50ace

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About the Author

Niccoy is a professional writer and content creator focusing on nature, wildlife, food, and travel. She graduated Kappa Beta Delta from Florida State College with a business degree before realizing writing was her true passion. She lives in the Triangle area and enjoys hiking, reading, and cooking!

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  1. IUCN RedList, Available here: https://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. EPA, Available here: https://www.epa.gov/wetlands/classification-and-types-wetlands#undefined