Cactus Wren

Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus
Range Map

Cactus Wrens are birds of the American Southwest and Mexico, often associated with desert habitats. Science recognises eight subspecies of these birds. Their classic song, which can be heard at a substantial distance, is an iconic sound heard throughout the scrubby deserts where they live. They often build their rather bulky nests in a Cholla Cactus. From the early age of about two months, these birds begin to build nests. Constructed not just for brooding, sometimes 6-7 nests scattered through their territory are built for use as roosting sites.

It’s never a dull moment when Cactus Wrens are about! Rarely seen alone, it is common to find them in pairs or in family groups. They are inquisitive creatures, and not much activity in their neighborhood gets past them without an investigation. More often than not, the entire group will attend the survey. Pair bonding is permanent and reinforced regularly by display behaviors such as spreading their wings and tails and issuing harsh calls.

They mostly forage at ground level, where insects are their primary prey, though they will also consume small reptiles, fruit, seeds, nectar, and cactus sap. Cactus Wrens will visit water features in suburban settings, but they can survive in locations far removed from water, and meet all their needs from the foods they eat.

Studies between 1966 and 2015 show there has been a reduction of the Cactus Wren population of over 1.5% per year, and a cumulative loss of over 50% during this period. Human encroachment, and especially agricultural conversions that decimate all the native flora, are the leading causes of this decline in population.

Science recognises seven subspecies of Cactus Wren:

  • C. b. affinis lives on the southern Baja California peninsula (Mexico).
  • C. b. bryanti lives on the northern Baja California peninsula (Mexico).
  • C. b. brunneicapillus lives in southeast Arizona and central Sonora east to central Texas and south to central Mexico.
  • C. b. seri lives on Isla Tiburón, Sonora (Mexico).
  • C. b. anthonyi lives in coastal southern California east through the deserts of southeastern California, southern Nevada, and eastern Arizona and south to northeastern Baja California and northwestern Sonora (Mexico).
  • C. b. sandiegensis lives in coastal sage scrub of California in San Diego and Orange Counties, and south to northwestern Baja California (Mexico).
  • C. b. guttatus lives on the on the central Mexican Plateau.

Most of my meetings with Cactus Wrens have been in the deserts of California and Arizona. When I visited Texas in the spring of 2020, I met them on my last day on Texas soil east of Fort Stockton.

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      Cactus Wren Song

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