Cactus Wren

Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus



Largest wren in United States; 7-9 inches long. Both sexes with dull, rusty crown, streaked back, heavily spotted breast, tawny-colored sides and belly; wing and tail feathers barred black and white conspicuous broad white stripe over eye. No differences between breeding and nonbreeding plumage. The tail is not usually held cocked as in most other wrens. Juveniles resemble adults but have lighter, smaller chest spots and shorter tails. The song is a low, raspy, cha cha cha cha cha, very reminiscent of a car's engine trying to turn over on a cold winter day.

Identification Tips:

Length: 6.5 inches
Long, slightly decurved bill
Bold white supercilium contrasting with dark crown and eyeline
White throat
Upper breast densely spotted with black
Underparts white becoming buffy toward tail and spotted
Upperparts grayish-brown with black and white streaks and spots
Long tail barred with black and white
Dark legs
Sexes similar

Habitat - Distribution

They like desert areas with taller cacti (especially cholla), or arid hillsides and valleys with other thorny plants capable of supporting their bulky nests. Cactus Wrens are found in the deserts of the southwestern United States, ranging from southern California, Nevada, and Utah, and central New Mexico and Texas, southward to central Mexico. Year-round resident in southern, western, and central Arizona in deserts with thorny vegetation.


The female selects the nest site which is often placed in cholla. They can also nest in other type cacti and thorny trees and shrubs such as mesquite, ironwood, paloverde, and catclaw acacia. The male and female work together to build the nest.

The Cactus Wren's nest is a large, spherical structure usually built with dry grasses and annual plants; strips of discarded paper and cloth found along roadsides are frequently woven in. A long, narrow-sided passage into an internal chamber, as well as the thorny substrate, protects this nest from most predators, although eggs and nestlings are frequently taken by coachwhips and whipsnakes in Arizona. As with most wren nests, the nest chamber is usually lined with feathers. The female Cactus Wren incubates, starting with the first egg, while the male builds a new nest in preparation for a second clutch. Additional nest structures are constructed and used as roosts throughout the year. The roost nests often lack the feather lining.

During wet winters, breeding season begins as early as late February, allowing time for double and sometimes triple broods. A young Cactus Wren takes 16 days to hatch and another 19-23 days to fledge; it will remain dependent on the parents for food for approximately 30 days after leaving the nest.


The Cactus Wren primarily eats insects, including ants, beetles, grasshoppers, and wasps. Occasionally, it will take seeds and fruits. A Cactus Wren often forages for food by overturning moveable objects on the ground with its large curved bill, capturing creatures hiding underneath.

Scientific Name:

The genus Campylorhynchus is derived from Greek words meaning curved beak. The specific epithet is derived from the Latin brunneus meaning brown and capillus meaning hair, in reference to the wren's brown cap and back.

The Cactus Wren has been the state bird of Arizona since 1931; its presence and song are considered characteristic of southwestern deserts.

Source USGS and Arizona Game and Fish



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