Meet Our State Bird

Reminder:  You can enlarge any of the photos in this blog by clicking on it.  Click again for a full-screen image.

My suspicion is that most people in this country identify the Greater Roadrunner with Arizona (thanks to Warner Brothers’ cartoons) and, if asked, would state that it is our state bird.  Nope.  The Arizona State Bird is the Cactus Wren.

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For my money, the Cactus Wren — the largest member of the wren family at about eight inches in length — is a superb choice for state bird.  Aside from being a beautiful bird, it has a distinctive personality and lifestyle.

As its name implies, the Cactus Wren is a native of the southwestern desert.  It can be found from western Texas through southern New Mexico and Arizona all the way to the California Coast (the California Cactus Wrens have a slightly different plumage pattern than their interior cousins).

These birds are remarkably engaging.  They are noisy and often highly visible.  It’s not unusual for one of these birds to set up shop on top of a mesquite or a Saguaro and sit for minutes at a time, uttering a loud, chattering, and repetitive call that can be heard for dozens of yards.  If you’ve never heard a Cactus Wren “singing” it sounds a bit like pebbles being rattled loudly in a can.

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These birds lead a remarkable domestic life.  The male will build a large, football-shaped nest, often embedded in the branches of a cholla cactus.  He constructs the nest out of grass, leaves, and sometimes, scraps of cloth or even newspaper.  The nest is completely covered and has a circular opening at one end.  When he finishes it, he often moves to another, nearby cactus, and constructs a second nest.  The female occupies the first nest, lays her eggs, and raises a brood.  She may then move to nest # 2 and raise a second brood in that nest.

These birds are relatively fearless.  They easily habituate to the presence of humans and they are opportunists.  A Cactus Wren will eat just about anything and they view humans as potential suppliers of food.  At Sabino Canyon Cactus Wrens hang out around the parking area and visitor center looking for scraps of food dropped by human tourists. At the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum, there’s a pair of Cactus Wrens that show up at the Raptor Free Flight demonstrations like clockwork, at the precise moment that each demonstration ends.  They then spend the next half-hour patrolling the various snags and perches, looking for scraps of meat that were fed to the raptors during the demonstrations but that the raptors may have overlooked.

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Photos made with a Canon 5Diii, 100-400 f4-5.6 L zoom lens.  The first two photos were made at ISO 400, aperture preferred setting, f7.1 @ 1/2000.  The third photo was made at ISO 500, aperture preferred setting, f7.1 @ 1/1,250.  All photos made at 400 mm.

2 responses to “Meet Our State Bird”

  1. Tom Munson says :

    You are a terrific writer and photographer, Steve. I really enjoy your commentary and images. Keep them coming.

    Tom

  2. Liesl Kii says :

    We learned a lot from your commentary. These birds seem pretty resourceful.

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