What is the State Bird of Arizona? (And Why?)

Arizona is the sixth largest state by area in the US and the 14th most populous. It is known for its mixture of desert landscapes in the south and woodlands in the northern parts. The state animal for Arizona is the Ringtail, but what is the state bird?

The state of Arizona chose the Cactus Wren (Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus) as the state bird in 1931. The largest of the North American wrens, the cactus wren calls home the US southwest, thriving in its arid climate. The bird enjoys national protection although it does not appear on the threatened or endangered lists.

The state bird of Arizona, the Cactus Wren.

The state bird of Arizona, the Cactus Wren.

Why is the Cactus Wren the state bird for Arizona?

Arizona recognized its state bird because of its native status and its unique song. It chose the cactus wren, in part, so the state could have a bird to itself. Since it became the 48th state, Arizona already knew how many states shared birds, although there’s hardly a shortage of birds in the US. According to the Tucson Audubon Society, the bird’s song consists of “a sputtering, staccato-chugging babble.” The big, bold bird earned a reputation as the bully of the desert.

When did the Cactus Wren become the state bird for Arizona?

The push for a state bird began 19 years after Arizona gained statehood, led by the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, who wanted the state bird named before their Biennial Council met in 1931. The GFWC recommended the Cactus Wren to the Arizona State legislature. The legislature complied.

Arizona Cactus Wren perched on a rock

Arizona Cactus Wren perched on a rock

What does the state bird of Arizona look like?

The bird blends with the desert with its dark cream and tan good looks. Behind each eye, the bird features a white eye stripe. Its breast and throat feature black and brown spots, while its tail and wings feature black bars contrasting with its creamy tan feather color. Interspersed, it has brown and white feathers. Its overall appearance is a creamy-colored brown bird with varied black and white patterns covering its body. Its barely curved beak matches the creamy brown of its chest color.

From head to tail, the Cactus Wren measures 7.1 to 7.5 inches. Its wingspan ranges from eight to 12 inches. These little birds don’t weigh much – only 1.18 ounces to 1.65 ounces. These birds live in the wild and typically reach the age of seven to 10 years old.

Cactus Wren perched on a cactus

Cactus Wren perched on a cactus

How do these birds behave?

The monogamous cactus wrens love being parents. They may breed multiple times per year, sometimes requiring them to erect two nests to accommodate all of their chicks. Occasionally, these industrious birds require a third nest for their many children. Their annual breeding season ranges from late February through March.

The female wren incubates one set of eggs while the male bird builds the second nest alone after the couple constructed the initial nest together. These Arizona cactus wrens build nests shaped like a football and the same size constructed from grasses and annual plants. They may include cloth or fiber scraps that they scourge while exploring their territory. Entry and egress occur through an opening at one end of the nest. They choose the cactus as their nesting tree to provide protection for their young. They will build in acacias, cholla, palo verde, or saguaros. If you have a large enough hanging pot in your yard, this resourceful avian might choose it as the ideal place for its nest.

Male and female cactus wrens mate for life. Often, their broods overlap, so these wrens share parenting duties completely. The mother bird incubates the second or third set of eggs while the father bird cares for the young in the first (and sometimes second nest). They protect their established territory (where they live throughout the year) and aggressively defend their nests from predators. Cactus wrens also destroy the nests of other bird species, pecking or removing their eggs. Mated birds perform less often since these mockingbirds use their birdsongs to attract their mates. A bird who hasn’t “married” yet sings more often to attract potential mates. That’s plural because mockingbirds “date.” Once they find their mate though, the mockingbird marries for life. These monogamous couples build a nest of grass, twigs, leaves, and sticks, then breed. Their children grow up and follow the same pattern.

Cactus Wren gathering nesting material

Cactus Wren gathering nesting material

Do Cactus Wrens form communities?

Cactus Wrens couple, then breed. The couple develops a “distinctive greeting ceremony.” This entails spreading their wings and tails, then issuing a harsh-sounding call. Each mate makes a growl-like sound at the other. They then gently peck each other, an activity that resembles covering each other with kisses.

These birds don’t migrate. They establish territory and defend it year-round. These menacing birds don’t usually have to fight because they scare away predators and other birds by fluffing their feathers and tails and yelling at the other animal, which sounds like “scri.”

If you can’t see the bird, but hear it, you’ll know this wren by its raspy-voiced call of char-char-char or jar-jar-jar. Their “tek” sound gives you or an animal a warning. If you hear “rack” repeatedly, the wren is looking for its spouse. Chicks beg for food with a “pee’p” or “dzip” sound.

Cactus Wren eating Saguaro Cactus Fruit

Cactus Wren eating Saguaro Cactus Fruit

What do Cactus Wrens eat?

The cactus wren is a carnivore, specifically an insectivore. They enjoy many desert insects but will also dine on small reptiles. They will eat fruits and seeds, too. Favorite menu items include grasshoppers, beetles, and other arthropods. They drink saguaro blossom nectar.

Parents feed their newborns. Until the chick matures, the parents feed them whole insects. They typically first remove the insects’ legs and wings.

These smart birds can become quite creative when weather or climate impacts their food stores. Cactus wrens have been observed removing dead insects from the radiator grills of vehicles. This typically occurs in the late morning hours. Because they don’t fly far, they forage on the ground. If turning over leaves and other ground debris doesn’t produce the food they need, they will investigate the nearby vehicles.

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