Behold the Cactus Wren!


(Linda & Dr. Dick Buscher, February 21, 2017)

Across the desert regions of the southwestern United States southward into central Mexico, a feisty little bird thrives. The sight and scolding sounds of the cactus wren, Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus, is a daily occurrence for all who live among them in these large desert regions of North America.

The cactus wren is the largest wren in North America, growing to be 7-9 inches (17-23 centimeters) long and weighing from 1-3 ounces (28-85 grams). Banded cactus wrens have been shown to live upwards of 6 years.

Cactus wrens have a distinctive white eye stripe above and behind each eye. Its breast is heavily spotted with shades of brown, black and sometimes a hint of orange. Its wings and long tail are barred with white, black and brown feathers. The bird’s beak is slightly curved.

Cactus wrens are desert dwellers and live in and among the forests of cacti found across this region. The sharp spines of the many species of cholla cacti are among its favorite, because the woody interior of the cholla cacti is strong enough to support the bird and its large nests.

Forests of cholla, anything-but-soft Teddy Bear cholla (Cylindropuntia bigelovii), are common across the desert regions of California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, western Texas and the desert regions of western and central Mexico. Where you find a cholla forest you are sure to find the cactus wren.

The female cactus wren will select the nesting site among the cholla or within thick desert scrub and trees. The birds will even nest in an abandoned woodpecker “boot” found within a giant saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea). Males help build the large football-shaped nest from local grasses with the interior lined with soft feathers. The side entrance helps protect the young from local predators.

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