Cactus Wren Perching On Saguaro — Don’t Try This At Home, Kids

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The Cactus Wren is Arizona’s state bird.  It is noisy — emitting a call consisting of a harsh, rattling croak — and, seemingly fearless.  Cactus Wrens have insatiable curiosity, exploring every nook and cranny of our local desert in search of food.  These birds are omnivores that will eat just about anything that they can glean or capture.  Their antics, while not intentionally amusing, are amusing nonetheless.

A couple of weeks ago I captured an image of this Cactus Wren perching atop a Saguaro.

I knew the instant that I made the image that I had photographed some antic behavior.  The wren, somehow, perched comfortably on tips of the Saguaro’s needle-sharp spines.

How does this bird manage this feat? Bear in mind that those spines are extremely sharp.  I’ve punctured my skin on more than one occasion just brushing up against a Saguaro.  The wren, however, looks perfectly at ease.

Part of the bird’s success has to do with the fact that weighs very little.  A Cactus Wren weighs about 1.4 ounces (about 39 grams).  It exerts minimal downward pressure on whatever surface it sits on.  Another element of its success is that it has learned to spread its toes so as to distribute its weight on the largest possible surface, further reducing pressure on the cactus’ spines.  

Cactus Wrens aren’t the only birds that have learned how to perch atop Saguaros without puncturing their feet.  Birds as large as a two-pound Harris’s Hawk learn the trick, although their techniques may differ from the wrens’ featherweight poses.  It’s quite impressive when you think about it, nothing that any of us could do.

Image made with a Canon 5Div, 400mm f4 DO II lens+1.4x telextender, M setting (auto ISO), ISO 640, f5.6 @ 1/2500.  

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