Clever, Curious Cactus Wren

Cactus Wrens photo by Doris Potter courtesy Focus on Nature Tours

This cheeky wren is a rule breaker, scorning the shy habits of his brethren to come curiously to patios and window sills probing inquisitively into every crevice in search of bugs to eat. The largest of the wrens, and our official state bird, the cactus wren is bold, brash and beautiful; a fine emblem for Arizona. These conspicuous wrens of the Southwest are noticeable for both their dashing plumage and their loud, harsh call, a series of ascending “char” notes. Veteran birders liken this call to an old car engine refusing to turn over on a cold morning.
The cactus wren forages for insects and spiders on the ground and in low shrubs. He’ll also eat the occasional small reptile as well as fruits and seeds. Cactus wrens often feed in pairs or in family groups, flicking their long tails with seeming enthusiasm. A nesting couple works together to build a football-sized nest of plant fibers and coarse grasses with a tunnel shaped entrance on the side. The nests are built in thorny plants like chollas, acacias and saguaros where predators risk impaling themselves on deadly sharp needles. The female lays 3-5 small pinkish eggs with brown speckles. While she sits on the eggs, the male constructs another nest. This will serve as a roosting nest for the female when the babies get larger and sometimes a brood nest for later clutches. The parents protect their young fiercely and will mob predators, driving them away. These clever birds are no match for urban sprawl however and are in a decline in many areas. A dozen or so years ago, when we first lived in Arizona I left a door open for the breeze, and a cactus wren hopped in and settled on the back of our sofa. She seemed not a bit concerned about the strange surroundings and when I opened all the doors and shooed her, she flew calmly back outside. I felt honored by the visit.
Arizona is also home to the shy canyon wren famous for its beautiful song, the rock wren who builds a pathway of stones to its nest location and Bewick’s wren, a cavity nester of more riparian areas.


2 responses to “Clever, Curious Cactus Wren

  1. I also enjoy their clown-like behaviors and have had a number of bold visits into my house of two bird dogs….my African grey mimics their sounds so I never am sure who has come for a visit or who is enticing them to get a rise out of the dogs…! Isn’t nature charming?

  2. Cute little bird that certainly has a long bill for its size.
    easier to get prey with, I ‘m sure. I t always amazes me how birds of all kind are such very good builder’s of nests. That instinct must be very strong.. JP

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