Desert Duets: Cactus Wren Info Web Page

Information about Cactus Wrens

What is making that noisy, demanding bird call? Could it be the cactus wren? Listen to the cactus wren's call on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Web site. Very few people would consider the state bird of Arizona a sweet singer.

At seven to nine inches long, the cactus wren is the largest wren in North America. It has a rusty brown head and a long white stripe above each eye. Its white breast has brown spots with orange-brown feathers on its undersides. Black bars make stripes down its long tail. The male and the female look alike.

Cactus wrens live in the Southwest deserts in Arizona and southern California and from Nevada and Utah into Mexico. They prefer scrubby habitat with plenty of cacti and thorny bushes and trees for their large nests. They mate for life, do not migrate, and live in their roosting nests all year around.

The cactus wren finds most of its food on the ground. It turns over rocks with its curved beak to uncover ants, beetles, grasshoppers, and other insects. Cactus wrens also eat seeds and pluck berries and fruits from thorny bushes. They have been known to eat small frogs and lizards as well. These birds get most of their water from the food they eat. This adaptation helps them survive in their desert habitat because they can live without drinking water.

So, if you are walking through the Sonoran Desert and hear a lovely bird song, you can bet it is a cardinal or a phaenopepla making that sweet music. But if you hear a bird that seems to be scolding its neighbors, you are probably listening to a cactus wren.

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Launched: February 2008
Updated: 17 January 2009