I just had about a fifteen minute conversation with this bird. I was sitting on the couch on our back porch, drinking coffee: my daily routine. The bird came up to investigate me, puzzled over me for a minute or so, and then went off to terrorize the finches who’d gathered around the pile of sunflower seeds I put out every morning. This is a cactus wren, Campylorhynchus brunneicapillus, the largest wren in North America and a common bird in the desert. Even if you don’t see them, you hear them:
I’ve stuck to gender-indeterminate pronouns throughout because I’m not expert enough to determine its sex, given that cactus wrens have little sexual dimorphism. Males sing to announce their territory. They make excellent alarm clocks when you’re camping, and they start about 5:45 a.m. in the summer. This one didn’t sing at me, so I have absence of evidence.
As I typed that last sentence, a cactus wren out in the yard sang for about 10 seconds. Not sure it’s the same one.
Cactus wrens are pretty engaging. They’re nervy and unafraid, inquisitive, even aggressive at times. This wren is the only one in the yard who’ll challenge the resident scrub jays over territory. That’s just attitude: the jays are there for the sunflower seed, and the wren doesn’t care for them much. Smaller seeds, insects, and occasional beaksful of fruit make up its diet. Our landlord planted a peach tree some years ago, and there were cactus wrens among the birds that attacked the ripening fruit.
The cactus wren’s song says “home” to me, the way Stellers’ jays’ squawk did when I lived in the Bay Area, and I smile when I notice it. It’s not my favorite wren song, though. The one I like best is that of the cactus wren’s smaller, shyer cousin the canyon wren Catherpes mexicanus:
I hear that song and no matter where I am, it’s the most beautiful place in the world.