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Cactus Wren

Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: TROGLODYTIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

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.

Songs

The song of the Cactus Wren is a quintessential sound of the desert and sounds like a car that just won’t start. Each attempt to start the car lasts for about 4 seconds with a 4–8 second pause before they try again. The raspy, harsh, loud series of harsh "char" notes, increases slightly in volume and pitch, and the sound carries through the heat of the desert, as far as 1,000 feet away. Females also sing, although their weaker and higher-pitched song is rarely heard. Males sing to attract females and to communicate with their mate and young as well as to warn potential intruders.

Calls

Adults and fledglings give several types of calls. The tek call is a staccato series of notes that adults give to warn intruding wrens. Adults and fledglings also make a single chuck sound to communicate with each other. Adults often give a buzz when they see predators. Males make a squeal that sounds like a painful whine when the female takes over the roosting nest to start nesting during the breeding season. Males and females give a growl-like call when they encounter each other, sometimes likened to the sound of a metal rake dragged through loose gravel.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Backyard Tips

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.

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.

Get Involved

Count the number of Cactus Wrens you see in your yard in February during the Great Backyard Bird Count.

If you have feeders in your yard, join Project FeederWatch and tell us what you are seeing at your feeders.

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Read about landscaping with desert cacti, xeriscaping, and more at Habitat Network.

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