Cactus Wren Facts | Anatomy, Diet, Habitat, Behavior

The cactus wren (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus) is the largest wren species in North America. The bird is native to the central Mexico and southwestern United States. Cactus wren belongs to the family of Troglodytidae. The bird is generally common in much of its range but is threatened in the southern California. It is a state bird of Arizona.

Cactus Wren Facts


  • Adult birds grow to a length of about 18–23 cm (7.1–9.1 in). They are commonly seen in the arid regions.
  • The average weight is about 32–47 g (1.1–1.7 oz). They have wingspan measuring up to 20 cm (8 inches).
  • Like a typical wren, the cactus wren has got loud voice.
  • The upperparts are also brownish. Cactus wren’s breast and throat are distinguished by the dark brown spots.
  • The overall plumage is light brown in color.
  • Northern population is slightly larger than the southern population.
  • They are more likely to be social as compared to other wren species.
  • The bird is mainly recognized by its brown head and barred wings. There are few spots on the wren’s tail.
  • Wren’s eyes are surrounded by white stripes.
  • Cactus wren has a slightly curved bill.
cactus wren facts
Cactus Wrens ©

Range & Habitat

  • Cactus wrens occur in many parts of southern California, western Texas, north-central Mexico, Arizona, and southern Nevada. Mexico is home to about eight wren species.
  • They make habitats below 4,000 feet. Cactus wren’s habitat also includes arid foothills and deserts especially those that are dominated by arid brush and wild cactus and yucca.
  • The cactus wren is thought to make homes in arid habitats such as mesquite, saguaro, and yucca. They will live in cactus plants because the cactus spines protect their nests from the predators. Wrens also protect their nests through lining it with the leaves of yucca.
  • Cactus prefers to build nests in lowland thorn-scrubs, suburbs, and montane thorn-scrubs.

Feeding Ecology & Diet

  • Cactus wrens feed on small insects including beetles, true bugs, grasshoppers, spiders, tree frogs, wasps, and ants. However wren’s diet also consists of seeds, fruits, frogs, and small reptiles.
  • Wrens rarely feed on small lizards. About 20% of the diet is composed of nectar, cactus fruit, and berries.
  • They begin foraging for food minutes after the sunrise. The search goes on all day long and the bird looks for insects in the branches of larger vegetation or bark crevices.


  • The cactus wren is likely to form permanent pair bonds; they mark territory which they actively defend it.
  • Cactus wrens will actively chase down any predator that attempts to get too close to the nest.
  • They have got one of the harsh voices.
  • Wrens are often seen alone but they do form small groups.
  • Sometimes cactus can be so aggressive that it destroys the nest of other birds and throw the eggs.
  • When threatened cactus wrens sound an alarm with its low-pitched notes such as chur-chur-chur.
  • They will likely to breed successfully in the cool nights of deserts.
  • They are not even scared to live in human-populated areas.
  • Cactus wrens forage not only in shrubs but also on the ground.
  • Unlike the rock wren which is highly migratory cactus wren is a permanent resident.
cactus wren facts
Cactus Wren feeding on a small lizard ©

Reproductive Biology

  • The breeding season ranges from mid-March to early September.
  • Cactus wren builds nest using plant fibers, weeds, plant down, animal hair, as well as coarse grass. The entrance is bit narrow appears more like a tunnel.
  • They keep the nest safe by placing many thorns around it. The nest is nearly the size of a football.
  • Cactus wrens build nests which are 10 – 30 inches above the ground.
  • A female lays 3 – 4 pinkish eggs that are mostly marked with reddish brown spots. Chicks are completely helpless at birth but they are not without hairs.
  • The female alone incubates the eggs that last about 12 – 18 days. However both parents are thought to feed the chicks.
  • During the time when a female incubates the eggs the male builds another nest. After the young flies away the female lays another clutch of eggs in a second nest and it goes on.
  • Young wrens will leave the nest after 19 – 23 days. They nevertheless remain with their parents for another couple of weeks.
  • The average life expectancy in the wild is 7 – 10 years.
  • Predators of cactus wren’s eggs are coachwhip (Masticophis flagellum) but adults often fall prey to hawks, domestic cats, coyotes, and bobcats.

Conservation Status

Least Concern

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