State Bird of Arizona – An Iconic Wonder of the Wild West!

State bird of Arizona - the cactus wren

Arizona, also known as the Grand Canyon State, is situated in the southwest of the United States.

It is known for its exceptional natural landmarks, lively urban centers, and multicultural heritage. Besides witnessing the natural wonders, this state offers you to learn about different wildlife, especially the birds.

The state of Arizona is a sanctuary for birds. The existence of more than 560 bird species has been recorded and confirmed by birdwatchers.

But which one among these owns the state bird title? It’s the one wearing the magnificent brown plumage with distinguishing black & white markings — the Cactus Wren!

This article delves deeper into the fascinating world of Arizona’s state bird, the Cactus Wren.

A Cactus Wren perched on a cactus plant in Arizona

Besides introducing many interesting facts about the state bird of Arizona, we will explore its background, natural habitat, dietary habits, and overall significance to Arizona’s people and wildlife.

10 Interesting Facts About Arizona’s State Bird: The Cactus Wren

The Cactus Wren is a unique and fascinating bird species in arid regions. With its distinctive appearance and impressive adaptations for survival in a harsh environment, the Cactus Wren is an intriguing subject for study and observation.

Here are some interesting facts about this remarkable bird:

1. It’s the Largest Wren in the USA

Cactus Wren isn’t the only one found in the United States of America. There are 9 others from this family that dwells in different regions of this country besides the Cactus Wren.

A Cactus Wren looking upward standing on a wooden desk

Among all of them, the 7.1 to 7.5 inches long and 33.4 to 46.9 g weighing Cactus Wrens are the largest.

The other neighbors are the Carolina wren, rock wren, pacific wren, house wren, winter wren, Bewick’s wren, marsh wren, canyon wren, and sedge wren.

2. The Bird Sings Like a Faulty Engine!

While walking through the deserts of Arizona, you might hear the feeble sound of an engine that’s having trouble getting started.

If you hear something like that and don’t see any vehicles nearby, don’t be afraid. Because it might be just a Cactus Wren singing!

Believe it or not, that’s exactly how some ornithologists have described the loud raspy chirrup of the state bird of Arizona, quote-unquote, “a car engine that will not start!

3. Smart Defence From Predators

The Cactus Wrens usually choose cacti for building their nests, and these plants are abundant in the desert.

Cactus plants keep their nest protected from different predators. These plants have long and pointy spines that can easily puncture skins. That’s why predators such as snakes can’t climb up.

Sharp needle-like spines also keep curious humans away. On top of that, it’s a stable platform and keeps the nest elevated from the ground.

They smartly use the plant as a natural defense system that keeps their younglings safe and sound. But keep in mind that that’s not their only weapon!

4. Protective of Their Nests & Territory

If someone oversteps their boundary, this bird has other ways to keep its nest safe.

They don’t need to engage in fights because their aggressive nature is enough most of the time to scare away predators. They fluff their feathers, making them look big and intimidating and move their tails.

While doing so, they also make a sharp “scri” sound. They try to remain brave even if the predator birds and animals are bigger.

They also make a “tek” sound to warn other birds and mark their territory. This way, they protect their nest year-round instead of migrating.

5. Interesting Fact About the Scientific Name

The scientific name of the state bird of Arizona is Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus.

The Greek word campylorhynchus means “curved beak”, and brunneicapillus “brown hair”. The scientific name basically means a brown bird that has a curved beak.

While the scientific name is based on the bird’s appearance, the common name relates to its preferred habitat. They prefer making their nests on the cactus, where the name comes from.

6. Bully of the Desert

An interesting fact about the Cactus Wren is that it has a reputation for being the bully of the desert! I know it’s hard to believe that a 7-inch-long bird can have such a title, but it’s not the size. It’s their intimidating nature.

They are notorious for attacking birds of other species, destroying their nests, and pecking their eggs.

They also attack squirrels and sometimes even people if they get too close to the nests.

7. They Are Great Parents 

The male and female members of this species mate for life. That’s why they breed multiple times and are gifted with many younglings.

A female cactus wren standing on concrete block

Sometimes they must make a second or third nest to accommodate all the new lives. No matter what, they don’t leave their children alone. They protect them from predators and feed them carefully until they grow up.

Cactus Wrens act as responsible parents by sharing their duties. For example, while the mother bird incubates the new eggs in the new nest, it’s the responsibility of the father bird to take care of the younger ones in the first nest and feed them.

8. These Species Date and Marry

In case you didn’t know, Cactus Wrens have a practice similar to ours. These birds attract other birds to date and to find a partner that’s suitable for them.

Once they find a true mate, they get “married” and remain monogamous their whole lifespan.

As a couple, they make new nests, mate for life, make lots of children, take care of them responsibly, and protect the nest. They are quite the family person type!

9. Multiple Unique Calls

Besides their usual song, “char-char-char” or “jar-jar-jar”, the Cactus Wrens make unique sounds for different situations. These sounds can be distinguished quite easily – 

  • “Tek” – used for warning other birds and animals about their presence. 
  • “rack” – used when they are looking for their partner.
  • “pee’p” or “dzip” – made by the chicks when they are hungry.
  • “Scri” – used to scare away predators from their nests and territory.

10. They Have Biological Subspecies

This bird species has 7 biological subspecies. The subspecies don’t have significant differences but ornithologists can identify them by their distinguishing features.

The subspecies are:

Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus sandiegensisCampylorhynchus brunneicapillus couesi
Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus affinisCampylorhynchus brunneicapillus brunneicapillus
Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus seriCampylorhynchus brunneicapillus guttatus
Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus bryanti

When Did Cactus Wren Become a State Symbol of Arizona?

Nineteen years after Arizona was recognized as the 48th state of the country, the Cactus Wren officially got the state bird title on March 16, 1931.

It was because of the endorsement of the GFWC – General Federation of Women’s Clubs. The bird was recommended to the Arizona State Legislature by the influential members of this federation.

The General Federation of Women’s Clubs wanted a designated state bird before their Biennial Council held in Phoenix that year. According to many sources, the authority launched a campaign in 1931 to decide what the state bird of Arizona would be.

Until 1986, the Cactus Wren wasn’t just the state bird of Arizona. It was actually the only symbol that represented the Grand Canyon State.

After an election sponsored by the Arizona Game and Fish Department in 1985, four new symbols were added to the state of Arizona.

The legislation reads, “The Cactus Wren, otherwise known as Coues’ Cactus Wren or heleodytes brunneicapillus couesi (Sharpe) shall be the state bird”.

  • L2016 Arizona Revised Statutes
  • Title 41 – State Government
  • § 41-854 State bird
  • Universal Citation: AZ Rev Stat § 41-854 (2016)

What’s the Habitat of Cactus Wren?

Cactus wrens inhabit arid and semi-arid regions of the southwestern United States.

Besides the state of Arizona, this interesting species of bird is also found in California, New Mexico, Texas, Nevada, and Utah. They are seen in certain parts of Mexico as well.

These birds build their nests in environments characterized by desert scrub, thorn scrub, and chaparral, which offer plenty of cacti, shrubs, and trees for sustenance and refuge. They also prefer saguaros, cholla, acacias, or palo verde.

This specie of bird isn’t migratory. They tend to live in the same place fighting all odds, protecting their territory, and taking care of their children.

What Are the Food Habits of Cactus Wren?

Cactus Wrens are carnivores, insectivores to be more specific. This means they primarily prefer insects such as ants, grasshoppers, beetles, wasps, and other arthropods.

As they dwell in the desert, they rarely drink water directly. Consuming insects takes care of that need.

Cactus Wrens depend on insects since their birth. Until they cannot fly and prey, the parents feed the chicks. Younglings are only fed the juicy parts of the body. The parents remove the insects’ legs and wings before feeding the younglings.

This species of bird also consumes seeds and fruits but occasionally. For example, sometimes, they get nutrients from saguaro blossom nectar.

What’s the Current State of Cactus Wren?

At present, there are a total of 7,000,000 individuals of the Cactus Wren species.

Among them, 3.1 million are in the United States. As a songbird, it’s protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. It means killing, capturing, selling, trading, and transporting this bird is prohibited.

IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List ranks the Cactus Wren as LC or Least Concern on the species conservation status.

This bird isn’t facing the threat of extinction, but the day might come soon if we don’t become aware of the situation.

IUCN classifies the population of Cactus Wrens as “decreasing”. According to the Partners in Flight (PIF), the Cactus Wren is a “Common Bird in Steep Decline.”

According to a recent assessment, the population has reduced by 64 percent!

Wrap Up

Cactus Wren’s distinctive appearance with the plumage represents the landscape of the great Grand Canyon State.

Its resourcefulness, brave and fierce nature, family-oriented nature, and impressive adaptations for survival in arid environments depict the picture of the people of Arizona.

The Cactus Wren is a fascinating and unique bird species that suits well with the title that represents the state of Arizona.

If we are not careful enough, it won’t take long for this magnificent bird species to vanish from the face of the earth. We need to raise awareness about protecting their natural habitat.

Photo of author

Written and Fact-checked by David Neff

Author at BirdBonica

David is an expert birder and bird parent with in-depth knowledge of birds. He has years of experience observing birds in their natural habitats, studying their diets, behavior, and more. (Learn more about David here...)

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