The cactus wren is the largest North American wren, and is 18-23 cm (7-9 inches) long.
Unlike the smaller wrens, the Cactus Wren is easily seen. It has the loud voice characteristic of
wrens, but its song is harsh and unmusical, and it is much less shy than most of the family. Its marked
white eyestripe, brown head, barred wings and tail, and spotted tail feathers make it easy to identify.
The Cactus Wren is native to the south-western United States southwards to central Mexico. It is a bird
regions, and is often found around yucca, mesquite or saguaro; it nests in cactus plants,
sometimes in a hole in a saguaro, sometimes where its nest will be protected by the prickly leaves of a
mainly eats insects, though it will occasionally take seeds or fruits. It rarely drinks
water, getting its moisture from its food.
The Cactus Wren forms permanent pair bonds, and the pairs defend a territory where they live all through the year.
Life History Account
Family: Troglodytidae Order: Passeriformes Class: Aves
DISTRIBUTION, ABUNDANCE, AND SEASONALITY
A locally common resident in the Mojave and Colorado deserts, north from the Mexican
boundary to Inyo and Kern cos. Coastal race found in arid parts of westward-draining slopes
from San Diego Co. northwest to Ventura Co.; numbers reduced in recent decades.
Joshua tree woodland, and
SPECIFIC HABITAT REQUIREMENTS
Feeding: Forages on ground and in low vegetation for insects, spiders, other small
invertebrates, cactus fruits, other fruits, nectar, and seeds (Bent 1948, Anderson and
Anderson 1973). Fruits make up 15-20% of annual diet; more than most U.S. wrens (Ehrlich
et al. 1988). Foraging behavior often regulated by heat stress (Ricklefs and Hainsworth
1968), necessitating retreat from exposed sites into shade of shrubs and trees.
Cover: Thickets of
vegetation provide cover and thermal relief. Nest used as roost
site (Anderson and Anderson 1957).
Reproduction: Nest usually built in cholla or other large, branching cactus, in yucca, or in
stiff-twigged, thorny shrub or small tree. Nest is an intricate, woven cylinder, usually placed
horizontally 1.2 to 1.5 m (4-5 ft) above the ground (Anderson and Anderson 1957).
Water: Drinks in winter (Anderson and Anderson 1963), but it is uncertain whether
drinking water is required.
Pattern: Frequents deserts and other arid terrain with thickets, patches, or tracts of larger,
branching cacti, stiff-twigged, thorny shrubs, and small trees (Grinnell and Miller 1944).
SPECIES LIFE HISTORY
Activity Patterns: Yearlong,
Seasonal Movements/Migration: Not migratory.
Home Range: May be same as territory (Anderson and Anderson 1963).
Territory: Average territory was 1.9 ha (4.8 ac), varying from 1.2-2.8 ha (2.9-6.9 ac), in
Arizona (Anderson and Anderson 1973). May maintain territory yearlong (Anderson and
Reproduction: Breeds from March into June. Clutch size 4-5, range 3-7 (Harrison 1978).
Two broods per season is common. Incubation 15-18 days, by female (Anderson and
Anderson 1960). Altricial nestlings fledge at 17-23 days, average 21 (Hensley 1959,
Anderson and Anderson 1960). Young may return to roost in nest after fledging. Young
become independent at about 1 mo after leaving nest; sometimes help feed young of later
brood (Harrison 1978).
Niche: Anderson and Anderson (1963) listed domestic cats,
of adults and nestlings. Austin et al. (1972) observed nestling predation
interactions with curve-billed thrashers reported
by Anderson and Anderson (1963), including destruction of cactus wren roosting nests by
Anderson, A. H., and A. Anderson. 1957. Life history of the cactus wren. Part I: Winter and
pre-nesting behavior. Condor 59:274-296.
Anderson, A. H., and A. Anderson. 1960. Life history of the cactus wren. Part III: The
nesting cycle. Condor 62:351-369.
Anderson, A. H., and A. Anderson. 1963. Life history of the cactus wren. Part IV:
Competition and survival. Condor 65:29-43.
Anderson, A. H., and A. Anderson. 1973. The cactus wren. Univ. Arizona Press, Tucson.
Austin, G. T., E. Yensen, and C. S. Tomoff. 1972. Snake predation on cactus wren nestlings.
Bent, A. C. 1948. Life histories of North American nuthatches, wrens, thrashers, and their
allies. U.S. Natl. Mus. Bull. 195. 475pp.
Dawson, W. L. 1923. The birds of California. 4 Vols. South Moulton Co., San Diego.
Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birder's handbook. Simon and
Schuster, New York. 785pp.
Grinnell, J., and A. H. Miller. 1944. The distribution of the birds of California. Pac. Coast
Avifauna No. 27. 608pp.
Harrison, C. 1978. A field guide to the nests, eggs and nestlings of north American birds. W.
Collins Sons and Co., Cleveland, OH. 416pp.
Hensely, M. M. 1959. Notes on the nesting of selected species of birds of the Sonoran
Desert. Wilson Bull. 71:86-92.
Ricklefs, R. E., and F. R. Hainsworth. 1968. Temperature dependent behavior of the cactus
wren. Ecology 49:227-233.
Small, A. 1974. The birds of California. Winchester Press, New York. 310pp.
California Department of Fish and Game