Arizona’s official state bird, the Cactus Wren,
is as unique as the state itself.
8.5” (22 cm)
Spiders and insects
Cactus, scrub, lightly populated desert areas
Loves snacks and butterflies
You may have heard it’s unusual song, a sputtering, staccato-chugging babble. That ‘song’, which David Sibley calls “unmusical….like a quacking duck”, is just one unique characteristic of the Cactus Wren. While the other eight North American wrens are small, drab, shy and furtive, the Cactus Wren stands alone. He is big, boldly patterned, boisterous, brash and inquisitive. At eight inches, he dwarfs our other wrens, and his bullying behavior is more like a thrasher than a wren.
Appropriately, his scientific name is a 10-syllable mouthful, Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus, meaning ‘brown-capped curved bill’. The Cactus Wren builds multiple nests, most of which are never occupied, and, as you might guess, these nests typically are found in cactus. Here the bird perches, oblivious to the sharp spines, shattering the clear desert air with his staccato song. Limited in the U.S. to the southwest, the wren is widespread south to central Mexico, and a dozen generic cousins can be found from Mexico to Brazil. One of these, the Rufous-naped Wren, made me think I was back in Arizona as it snatched scraps from my table in Costa Rica.
Far from shy, the Cactus Wren carries a chip on his shoulder and is not one to mess with. They will destroy bird nests and eggs, including those of other Cactus Wrens. I’ve had my hat knocked off after getting too close to a Cactus Wren nest, and inexplicably another made a high speed landing in the center of my back. I also saw one peck a downed House Finch to death. Like Arizona retirees, they are mostly monogamous, adapt well to suburban desert neighborhoods ,and often growl when they meet their mates. This is a bird that, if it could, would sport a bolo tie and carry a Colt. Without question, this was a good choice for the wild west state of Arizona.