BIRD TALK: THE CACTUS WREN

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By Greg Dunne

February 21, 2013 (Lake Jennings) --   Many birds call both California and Arizona their home.  Although our state bird, the California Quail, crosses over into other states, it does not cross over to our neighbor to the east in Arizona.  However, the Arizona state bird, the Cactus Wren also calls our East County its home.

The Cactus Wren can be found here occasionally in Southern California. This particular Cactus Wren I photographed at Lake Jennings. It was having a good time making itself known; its loud alarm call “tek-tek-tek-tek” as it gets louder and louder towards the end.  It seems to me that wrens can throw their voices. This would make sense because wrens will try to distract you from their nest by making themselves heard as they move farther and farther from the nest.

The largest North American wren, the Cactus Wren has a distinctive white stripe over each eye and a longer-than-usual tail, which it does not normally cock up. Although it can be found in urban backyards, it is a true bird of the desert and can survive without freestanding water. Almost all of its water comes from the food it eats. The Cactus Wren eats many types of food, often turning over rocks or other objects it finds on the ground in search of tasty morsels. Fruit pulp, seeds, ants, grasshoppers, beetles, and other arthropods make up its diet.

The Cactus Wren builds two nests; one for the young and one for roosting. Cactus Wrens can have as many as three broods every season. Females find a nesting place in a large cactus or thick shrub, tree or thicket. Males help build the nests. The nest is made with grass and straw and lined with feathers. The nest is large and shaped like a football. It has a side entrance that helps protect the fledglings from predators. They mate from late February to March. So this is a good time to spot the Wren here in our east county. This is the time of year I was able to photograph this Cactus Wren at Lake Jennings.

I end with a bird limerick I enjoy from the famous limerick writer Edward Lear:

“There was an Old Man with a beard

Who said, 'It is just as I feared!

Two Owls and a Hen,

Four Larks and a Wren,

Have all built their nests in my beard!’’’