Living Bird Magazine
Cactus WrenCampylorhynchus brunneicapillus
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Troglodytidae
No bird exemplifies Southwestern deserts better than the noisy Cactus Wren. At all hours of the day they utter a raw scratchy noise that sounds like they are trying to start a car. Cactus Wrens are always up to something, whether hopping around on the ground, fanning their tails, scolding their neighbors, or singing from the tops of cacti. They build nests the size and shape of footballs which they use during the breeding and nonbreeding season. Cactus Wrens are true desert dwellers; they can survive without needing to drink freestanding water.More ID Info
Find This Bird
The key to finding a Cactus Wren is to look for cholla or prickly-pear cacti whether in the desert or in an urban or suburban park. You know you've found the right place when you see football-shaped clumps of vegetation stuck in a cactus—these are Cactus Wren nests and a sure sign the birds are around. Listen for their call—a rusty old car that just won’t start—and look for them on the tops of cholla cactus, prickly-pear cactus, yuccas, or mesquite shrubs. Cactus Wrens are not shy, so with enough time in their habitat you will no doubt come across one or two chasing each other around.
- Cucarachero Desértico (Spanish)
- Troglodyte des cactus (French)
Cactus Wrens sometimes visit sunflower or suet feeders. Head over to Project FeederWatch to learn more about what types of feeders to use as well as what types of food are best.
Cactus Wrens are fairly adaptable birds and will visit or maybe even nest in your yard if you have a few cactus or other desert plants. Xeriscaping is great way to provide habitat for desert birds as well as making your yard look beautiful. Habitat Network has great information to help you create bird friendly habitat.
Bird-friendly Winter Gardens, Birdsleuth, 2016.
- Cool Facts
- Most birds only build nests during the breeding season and use them just for rearing their young, but male and female Cactus Wrens build multiple nests and use them as roosting sites even during the nonbreeding season.
- Juvenile Cactus Wrens start building nests early in life. They imitate their parents by picking up nesting material as soon as 12 days after leaving the nest, but they don’t actually build their own nest until they’ve been out of the nest for about 63 days.
- Adults often feed their nestlings grasshoppers, being careful to pluck off the wings before stuffing the insect into the chicks' mouths. The parents need to pluck a lot of grasshopper wings; one nestling needs to eat at least 14 grasshoppers a day to meet its nutritional requirements.
- The Cactus Wren destroys the nests of other bird species, pecking or removing their eggs, and can lower the breeding density of Verdins (another desert bird).
- Cold desert nights may have more of an impact on the success of Cactus Wren breeding than extremely hot daytime temperature.
- Cactus Wrens rarely drink water. Instead they get all their liquids from juicy insects and fruit.
- The Cactus Wren is the state bird of Arizona.
- The oldest recorded Cactus Wren was a male, and at least 8 years, 1 month old when it was identified in California by a leg band in 2013. It had been banded in the same state in 2006.
- The Cactus Wren is an active mobber of nest predators. A pair was observed attacking a Yuma antelope squirrel so vigorously that the squirrel became impaled on the thorns of a cactus. The wrens continued to peck the squirrel until it was knocked to the ground where it escaped.
- Before heading back to the nest for the night, many Cactus Wrens take a dust bath. Several species also take dust baths to help reduce feather parasites and keep feathers looking good.