Overview

Brief Summary

Cactus Wrens are fairly large, conspicuous birds with a loud, monotonous, churring call. They are easily recognized by their heavily streaked and spotted plumage. They have a long white eye stripe, buff belly, dense black spots on the upper breast, black and white streaks and spots on the back and upper wings, and a long tail with black and white bars. Males and females look very similar.

Cactus Wrens are residents of arid habitats in the southwestern United States and Mexico. They are quite common in urban areas, especially in gardens and vacant lots with cacti and shrubs like jojoba and creosote. Males and females build large grass nests in cactus, especially chollas, shrubs or small trees. These birds have a long, slender, slightly curved bill and feed mostly on insects on the ground or near the ground in cactus or shrubs.

Cactus Wrens are members of the almost exclusively South and Middle American wren family, the Troglodytidae. This group consists of about 80 species of mostly small, brown birds.

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Overview of Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus

Cactus wren (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus) is the Arizona State Bird.  Characterized by the white eye stripe just behind each eye, heavily spotted dark brown and black throat and breast, and its wings and tail barred with black, white and brown feathers. It has an overall appearance of a creamy colored brown with black and white patterns covering its body. In addition, it also has a curved beak.

The cactus wren consist of many types of food such as fruit pulp, seeds, ants, grasshoppers, beetles, and other arthropods. It often finds its food by turning over rocks or other objects it finds on the ground in search of tasty morsels.

Common predators of the Cactus Wren are Coachwhips and other whipsnakes, which navigate their way through the cactus and often will take eggs or nestlings, while adult birds can be food for coyotes, hawks, fox, bobcats and domestic cats.

Found in the Sonoran Desert, southern California, southern Nevada, western Texas and southwest Utah, the cactus wren builds its nest in the shape of a football with an opening at one end. They will construct this nest out of grasses and other annual plants, but also have been known to include scraps of cloth and other woven fibers that they find. They typically will build their nest in cholla, but have also been seen building their nest in palo verde, acacias, saguaros, or the hanging pot in backyards.

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Distribution

The Cactus Wren is a permanent resident of arid and semi-arid desert regions of the southwestern United States, ranging from southern California, Nevada, and Utah, and central New Mexico and Texas, southward to central Mexico (Anderson 1973; Ricklefs 1968; McCarthy 2000).

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )

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occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

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Global Range: Resident from southern California, south to southern Baja California, and northwestern Sinaloa, and from southern Nevada, southwestern Utah, western and south-central Arizona, southern New Mexico, and central Texas, south in the Mexican highlands to Michoacan, Mexico and Hidalgo. To 1800 m in New Mexico.

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Physical Description

Morphology

Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus, the largest wren in the United States, is 7-9 inches (17.8-22.9 cm) long. Sexes are similar, characterized by a long, slightly decurved bill, dark crown with a distinctive white stripe over the eye, white throat, gray-brown back streaked with white and black, and white to buff belly and sides, densely spotted at the breast. The wings and tail feathers are mostly black with white barring and the legs are dark. Juveniles resemble adults, but have fewer, lighter chest spots and a shorter tail (Anderson 1973; Udvardy 1994; McCarthey 2000; Gough 1998).

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry

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Size

Length: 22 cm

Weight: 39 grams

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Diagnostic Description

Differs from the sage thrasher in having a streaked back, heavily barred wings and tail, and a broad white eyebrow. No other U.S. wren has both a broad white eyebrow and a heavily spotted breast.

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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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The Cactus Wren is common throughout the southwestern United States. This arid desert, dominated by cholla and other succulent cacti and spiny trees and shrubs, is characterized by high temperatures, low humidity, and scarce water. Arid hillsides and valleys will also be used. The Cactus Wren is generally found below 4,000 feet, although it is found at elevations up to 6,000 feet in areas of New Mexico. They are common even in urban areas planted with native desert vegetation (Anderson 1973; Ricklefs 1968; McCarthey 2000).

Terrestrial Biomes: desert or dune

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Comments: Desert (especially with cholla cactus or yucca), mesquite, arid scrub, coastal sage scrub, and in trees in towns in arid regions (Tropical to Subtropical zones) (AOU 1983). Nests in OPUNTIA cactus, or in twiggy, thorny, trees and shrubs, sometimes in buildings. Nest may be relined and used as a winter roost.

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Migration

Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

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Trophic Strategy

The Cactus Wren primarily eats insects, including ants, beetles, grasshoppers, and wasps. Occasionally, it will take seeds and fruits. Foraging begins late in the morning and is versatile; the cactus wren will search under leaves and ground litter and overturn objects in search of insects, as well as feeding in the foliage and branches of larger vegetation. Increasing temperatures cause a shift in foraging behavior to shady and cooler microclimates, and activity slows during hot afternoon temperatures. Almost all water is obtained from food, and free standing water is rarely used even when found (Udvardy 1994; Ricklefs 1968; McCarthey 2000).

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Comments: Feeds on insects (beetles, ants, wasps, bugs, grasshoppers) and spiders. Occasionally eats small lizards and tree frogs. Also eats fruit (cactus, elderberries, cascara berries) and some seeds. Often forages on ground; also in Joshua trees.

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Associations

Known prey organisms

Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus (cactus wren) preys on:
Orthoptera
Lepidoptera
Gryllidae
cactus weevils
Moneilema

Based on studies in:
USA: Arizona, Sonora Desert (Desert or dune)

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
  • P. G. Howes, The Giant Cactus Forest and Its World: A Brief Biology of the Giant Cactus Forest of Our American Southwest (Duell, Sloan, and Pearce, New York; Little, Brown, Boston; 1954), from pp. 222-239, from p. 227.
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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

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Life Expectancy

Range lifespan

Status: wild:
6.3 (high) years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
76 months.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 6.3 years (wild)
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Reproduction

The breeding habitat of the Cactus Wren is successional scrub. Nesting occurs on well defined and defended territories, which are occupied most of the year. The females select a nest site high in native thorny trees and shrubs, showing a preference for cholla cacti. Nest building has also been observed in non-native trees and shrubs as well as in non-thorny native plants, though it is not known if these are only used for roosting purposes. Both the male and female help build the large spherical nest of dry grasses, often lined with feathers. Nests are protected from predators by having only a narrow side entrance and the substrate armature. Breeding begins in late February or early March and continues through June. Clutches consist of 4-5 buff colored eggs, speckled with brown. The female incubates the first clutch for approximately 16 days, beginning with the first egg laid, while the male builds secondary nests and defends the territory. Both parents feed the young and fledging occurs at 19-23 days. After fledging, young continue to stay in the parent's territory for about a month, sleeping in roosting nests; this post-fledgling care is long compared to most temperate-zone passerines. Additional nests, built by the males, can be used to rear second, sometimes third, broods. Clutch size, clutch survival, and additional reproductive behavior are often limited by food availability; fluctuating brood size appears to be an advantageous adaptation to unpredictable desert environments and food availability (Anderson 1973; Ricklefs 1975; Ricklefs 1968; Gough 1998; MacCarthey 2000; Simons and Martin 1990; Farley and Stuart 1994).

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; oviparous

Average time to hatching: 16 days.

Average eggs per season: 4.

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Clutch size is 3-7 (usually 3-5). Incubation lasts 15-18 days. Young are tended by both parents, leave nest in about 21 days (Harrison 1978). Two to three broods per year. Nesting success and timing of breeding may vary annually (Marr and Raitt 1983).

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


There are 6 barcode sequences available from BOLD and GenBank.

Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.

See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.

CTTATACCTAATCTTCGGCGCATGAGCCGGAATAGTAGGCACTGCCCTAAGCCTCCTCATCCGAGCTGAGCTAGGTCAACCTGGCGCCCTGCTAGGAGACGACCAGATTTACAACGTAATCGTCACAGCCCATGCCTTCGTGATGATCTTCTTCATAGTTATACCAATCATGATCGGAGGATTCGGAAACTGACTAGTTCCCCTAATAATCGGAGCCCCCGACATAGCATTCCCACGAATGAACAACATAAGCTTCTGACTCCTACCACCATCCTTCCTGCTCCTCCTAGCCTCCTCCACCGTCGAGGCAGGGGTTGGAACAGGCTGAACAGTATACCCCCCCCTAGCAGGAAACCTAGCCCACGCCGGAGCATCCGTCGACCTCGCCATCTTCTCCCTACACCTGGCAGGCATCTCCTCCATCCTAGGCGCAATTAACTTCATCACAACAGCAATCAACATAAAACCCCCTGCCCTATCCCAATACCAAACACCCCTATTCGTCTGATCCGTATTAATCACTGCAGTCCTACTACTCCTATCCCTGCCCGTCCTCGCCGCAGGCATCACCATACTACTAACAGATCGAAACCTCAACACTACATTCTTCGACCCCGCAGGAGGAGGAGATCCCGTACTATACCAACACCTGNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN
-- end --

Download FASTA File

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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 6
Specimens with Barcodes: 8
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2012

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S. & Symes, A.

Contributor/s

Justification
This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.

History
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
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