Monday, February 15, 2016


Photo by Mark Wagner

I decided to write about cactus wrens for two important reasons:


1.  Mom just finished writing an article on this topic for the cactus club newsletter, and she said I could use what she wrote.  Mom is a pretty good writer -- although not as good as me -- and since she already did all the research the stuff, I thought I would just take her up on her offer.


Photo by Karen Hartshorne  ©2013

2.  One place that cactus wrens live is in the Mexican state of Chihuahua, which is where my chihuahua ancestors came from.  So I figure there are still lots of chihuahuas around who hear cactus wrens singing all the time.  And because we have this special connection, that is another reason to write about the bird.  So anyway, here is what Mom wrote:

Unlike other North American wrens, the cactus wren (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus) is easy to spot because of its large size.  It has a loud, rasping voice and is much bolder than other wrens.  The bird is quite common in the desert southwest and has been designated the State Bird of Arizona.  There are eight species of the wren in Mexico and a few more farther south.

The cactus wren is well-adapted to low, dry habitats, building its nests in chollas, saguaros, yuccas, and other spiny plants.  It can also be found in mesquite brush and in coastal chaparral where cactus grows.  In residential areas, the birds are often a nuisance because their natural curiosity compels them to fly through open windows into cars or houses.

Pair of cactus wrens

Pairs of wrens stay together for life.  Once they have claimed a territory, they occupy and defend it
throughout the year.  The male and female work together to build a football-sized nest from grass and straw.  It is lined with feathers and has a side entrance. The female lays 3-6 eggs, which she then incubates for about 16 days.  Both parents feed the chicks, who leave the nest between 19 and 23 days after hatching.


Sabino Canyon, AZ, Photo by Alan Vernon

The diet of cactus wrens consists primarily of insects, including ants, beetles, grasshoppers, and wasps.  Occasionally, they eat seeds, fruits, small reptiles and frogs.  The birds begin foraging late in the morning, poking through ground litter and turning over stones in search of insects.  As the day becomes hotter, the wrens’ activity slows and moves to shadier microclimates.  Almost all of the birds’ water comes from food.  They rarely drink from free-standing water, even if it is available.

The cactus wren is not listed as being endangered or threatened; however, it is protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the same as other song birds.  In the wild, wrens can live to be 7-10 years old.

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