Cactus Wren

Cactus Wren

© Gerrit Vyn


No bird exemplifies Southwestern deserts better than the noisy Cactus Wren. At all hours of the day they utter a raw scratchy noise that sounds like they are trying to start a car. Cactus Wrens are always up to something, whether hopping around on the ground, fanning their tails, scolding their neighbors, or singing from the tops of cacti. They build nests the size and shape of footballs which they use during the breeding and non-breeding season. Cactus Wrens are true desert dwellers; they can survive without needing to drink freestanding water.

Size & Shape
The Cactus Wren is a large chunky wren with a long heavy bill, a long, rounded tail, and short, rounded wings; and is the largest wren in the United States and is similar in size to a Spotted Towhee.

Color Pattern
The Cactus Wren is a speckled brown bird with bright white eyebrows that extend from the bill, across and above their red eyes, to the sides of the neck. They have pale cinnamon sides and a white chest with dark speckles. The back is brown with heavy white streaks, and the tail is barred white and black—especially noticeable from below. Males and females look alike, but juveniles are slightly paler and have a brown eye.

Unlike other wrens that typically hide in vegetation, the Cactus Wren seems to have no fear. They perch atop cacti and other shrubs to announce their presence and forage out in the open. They do not cock their tails over their back the way other wrens do. Instead they fan their tail feathers, flashing white tail tips.

Cactus Wrens live in deserts, arid foothills, coastal sage scrub, and urban areas throughout the Southwestern deserts, especially in areas with thorny shrubs, cholla, and prickly pear.

Tips and Cool Facts

  • Cactus Wrens sometimes visit sunflower or suet feeders. 
  • Cactus Wrens are fairly adaptable birds and will visit or maybe even nest in your yard if you have a few cactus or other desert plants. Xeriscaping is great way to provide habitat for desert birds as well as making your yard look beautiful.
  • Adults often feed their nestlings grasshoppers, being careful to pluck off the wings before stuffing the insect into the chicks' mouths. The parents need to pluck a lot of grasshopper wings; one nestling needs to eat at least 14 grasshoppers a day to meet its nutritional requirements.
  • Cactus Wrens rarely drink water. Instead they get all their liquids from juicy insects and fruit.
  • Before heading back to the nest for the night, many Cactus Wrens take a dust bath. Taking dust baths helps to reduce feather parasites and keep feathers looking good.
  • The Cactus Wren is the state bird of Arizona.