Cactus WrenCampylorhynchus brunneicapillus

adult
Rolf Nussbaumer/VIREO
adult
Brian E. Small/VIREO
juvenile
William J. Hubick/VIREO

Family

Description

Big and bold, with strong markings and a harsh rasping voice, this bird is very different from our other temperate-zone wrens. It represents a tropical group of large, sociable wrens, with eight species in Mexico and a few more farther south. Cactus Wrens are common in our desert southwest. They are usually seen in pairs or family parties, strutting on the ground or hopping in the brush, often posturing with spread wings and tails as they call to each other. Their bulky nests are conspicuous in cholla cactus and desert trees; after the breeding season, the wrens may sleep in these at night.

Habitat

Cactus, yucca, mesquite; arid brush, deserts. Lives in a variety of low dry habitats. Most numerous in desert, in areas with thorny shrubs and cactus, especially where cholla cactus is common; also found in mesquite brush, in towns, and locally in coastal chaparral where cactus grows.

Feeding Diet

Mostly insects, some fruits and seeds. Feeds on a wide variety of insects, including beetles, ants, wasps, true bugs, grasshoppers, and many others. Also eats a few spiders, and occasionally small lizards. Eats more plant material than other wrens (up to 20%), including berries, cactus fruits, seeds, some nectar.

Feeding Behavior

Forages on the ground and in low trees, probing in bark crevices and among leaf litter on ground. Often forages in pairs or family groups. On the ground, often inserts bill under a leaf or small rock and lifts up to look for food underneath. Adaptable and curious, will explore possible new sources of food, learning to probe in cones of planted pines and to pick smashed insects from the front ends of parked cars.

Nesting

May mate for life, pairs remaining together all year on permanent territory. Members of pair have greeting display, perching upright with wings and tail partly spread, giving harsh calls. Male may build extra "dummy" nests while female is incubating. Adults sometimes puncture eggs of other birds nesting nearby. Nest site is in cactus (especially cholla), tree yucca, or thorny low tree such as mesquite, acacia, or paloverde; usually less than 10' above the ground, rarely up to 30'. Sometimes nests in hole in building or in large cavity in giant cactus. Nest (built by both sexes) is a bulky mass of weeds, grass, twigs, lined with feathers, animal hair, plant down. Nest is shaped like football lying on its side; entrance at one end, with narrow tubular passage leading to nest chamber. Eggs: 3-4, sometimes 2-5. Whitish to pale pink, heavily spotted with brown. Incubation is by female only, about 16 days. Young: Both parents feed nestlings. Young leave nest about 19-23 days after hatching, may remain on parents' territory for some time thereafter.

Eggs

3-4, sometimes 2-5. Whitish to pale pink, heavily spotted with brown. Incubation is by female only, about 16 days. Young: Both parents feed nestlings. Young leave nest about 19-23 days after hatching, may remain on parents' territory for some time thereafter.

Young

Both parents feed nestlings. Young leave nest about 19-23 days after hatching, may remain on parents' territory for some time thereafter.

Conservation

Surveys suggest numbers are declining in parts of Texas. Scarce population on coastal slope of southern California may be threatened. In main southwestern range, still widespread and abundant.

Range

Permanent resident.

Listen

call
song #1
song #3
song #2

Similar Species

adult

Canyon Wren

One of the best songsters in the west, the Canyon Wren is usually heard before it is seen. Surprisingly elusive and skulking even in open terrain, this dark rusty wren disappears and reappears as it creeps about the jumbled rocks of an eroded cliff or steep canyon wall. If the observer waits, the bird will eventually jump to the top of an exposed boulder to pour out another song, a rippling and musical cascade of notes, well suited to beautiful wild canyons.

adult

Rock Wren

Arid rocky canyons and seemingly barren piles of boulders are home to this active little bird, the palest of our wrens. Birders who explore such places may spot the Rock Wren bouncing up and down on its short legs, as if on springs, while it gives a metallic callnote that echoes among the rocks. The nest of this wren can sometimes be located by its curious "front porch," a paving of small pebbles on the ground in front of the nest entrance.

adult

Bewick's Wren

In dry thickets and open woods of the west, this is often a very common bird. Pairs of Bewick's Wrens (pronounced like "Buick") clamber about actively in the brush, exploring tangles and bark crevices, waving their long tails about, giving harsh scolding notes at any provocation. In the east, this species is far less common, and it has vanished from most of its former range east of the Mississippi River.

adult

Carolina Wren

More brightly colored than most wrens, and with a rich musical song, Carolina Wrens are common in open woods and backyards in the southeast. There they busily explore brushpiles and low tangles. The adults live in pairs all year, and they may "duet" at any season, with the female giving a chattering note while the male sings. The northern edge of this species' range varies over time: it gradually expands northward during series of mild years, then gets knocked southward again by very severe winters.

adult

Sage Thrasher

This well-named bird is seldom found in summer away from stands of sagebrush. Smaller and shorter-billed than most thrashers, it may suggest a washed-out robin. During the breeding season, its melodious song can be heard incessantly at dawn on the sagebrush flats. The Sage Thrasher is sometimes elusive; if pursued closely it may seem to disappear, only to pop up on a bush top a hundred yards away.

Vireo

iPad Promo