Cactus Wren

Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus


Largest wren in United States; 7-9 inches long. Both sexes have a dull, rusty crown and a streaked, heavily spotted breast. The wing and tail feathers are barred in black, and the eye is covered with a conspicuous broad, white stripe. There are no differences in breeding plumage and nonbreeding. As with most other wrens, the tail is not held cocked. Although they look like adults, juveniles have smaller chest spots and shorter tails. It is a low, raspy, cha-cha-cha cha song that sounds very much like a car engine trying to turn on a cold winter's day.

Identification Tips

Length: 6.5 in

A bill with a long, slightly decurved length

Contrasting with dark eyeliner and crown, bold white supercilium

White throat

Upper breasts densely spotted in black

White underparts becoming more spotted towards the tail.

Upperparts grayish brown with black streaks and spots

Black and white: Long tail with black bars

Dark legs

Similar sexes

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Habitat - Distribution

Cactus Wrens prefer desert areas with taller, especially cholla-like cacti or hillsides with other thorny plants that can support their large nests. Cactus Wrens can be found in deserts throughout the southwest United States. They are found from Southern California, Nevada, Utah, central New Mexico, Texas, and southwards to central Mexico. Residents of central, western, or southern Arizona year-round in deserts with thorny plants.




The nest site is chosen by the female, which is usually in cholla. They are also able to nest in other types of cacti, thorny shrubs, mesquite and ironwood as well as in cholla. The nest is built by the male and female together.

Cactus Wrens nest is a large, cylindrical structure made with annual plants and dry grasses. Sometimes strips of paper or cloth from roadsides are used to weave in. This nest is protected from most predators by a narrow passage that leads into the internal chamber. However, eggs and nestlings can be taken by Arizona whipsnakes and coachwhips. The nest chamber of wrens is lined with feathers as with many others. Incubating begins with the first egg by the female Cactus Wren. The male then builds a new nest to prepare for the second. Additional nest structures can be built and used throughout the year as roosts. The feather lining is often absent from roost nests.

The breeding season can begin as early as February during wet winters. This allows for the possibility of double or triple broods. It takes 16 days for a young Cactus Wren to hatch, and 19-23 days for it to fledge. The bird will be dependent on its parents for food for about 30 days after it leaves the nest.


Cactus Wrens eat mainly insects such as ants, grasshoppers and beetles. It will occasionally eat seeds and fruits. Cactus Wrens are known to forage for food by turning objects on the ground, and capturing any creatures that might be hiding beneath.

Scientific Name:

From the Greek words for curved beak, Campylorhynchus derives its genus name. In reference to the brown cap and back of the wren, the specific epithet is from Latin brunneus which means brown and capillus which means hair.

Since 1931, Arizona's state bird is the Cactus Wren. Its song and presence are characteristic of the southwestern deserts.


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