Cactus Wren - The Voice of the Desert

By Dave Hanks

Arizona’s state bird is an early morning vocalist. Its song resonates on the desert air. This low pitched, harsh, rapid “cha-cha-cha-cha-cha” has great carrying power. On early morning excursions, in the arid regions of the southwestern USA, it is pleasant to be serenaded by this bird.

The Cactus Wren is huge when compared to other wrens - 8 to 9 inches long as opposed to 4 ˝ or less. Its underside has a densely spotted breast and a streaked belly. This bird can eat almost any kind of plant material or insects.Its long. narrow beak is especially handy when probing through all types of vegetation.

Cholla cacti are preferred as nest sites. The sharp cactus spines discourages snakes and other predators from disturbing the nest. They will also protect their nests by mobbing predators – many birds flying at and harassing an enemy. Ground squirrels, that were mobbed when trying to get at a nest, have been observed impaled on cactus thorns.

They must have tough feet because thorns do not seem to bother them! Two bulky nests are built: one is for the young and the other is for roosting. The roosting nest is necessary because the cold desert nights affect them more than the extremely hot daytime temperatures. They will also destroy the nests of other birds, thereby keeping breeding density and their competition at a lower level.

One of our first experiences, with this highly inquisitive species, was when a wren was on our camper’s bumper trying to gain access into our living quarters. We have also observed them flying inside of cars when the windows were left open. All wrens seem to have this behavioral trait and can be lured into sight by “pishing” – which is making a noise with your lips that sounds much like what it is called.

We only go south in the cooler weather, but this year-round resident is always there - its song a constant reminder of its presence.

(Comfortable on a Cholla)