Cactus Wren Stops By …

I was hoping to explore some of the 152 acres of Greasewood Park, the first natural resource park set aside by the city of Tucson. After talking with people in the parking lot, I decided to walk a wash and set up my camera for any wildlife observation and photography time since I would need to choose another day to have more time hiking this park. I figured hanging out in this wash would be okay as I had a couple of hours.

My camera was set to have best light for any bird that flew into a particular area I scoped out. Of course, it doesn’t always happen that way, nor right away, so I found myself photographing the wash, in each direction from where I was standing, and my shadow in the wash. 

Off in the bushes I see a bird fluttering around and with what look like feathers in its beak. I took a quick photo before it went anywhere as I did not want to miss a moment. I recognized it as a cactus wren, Arizona’s state bird, but what was this bird up to?

I discover the cactus wren is flying to a nest it is building just to the left of me! Of course that is just how wildlife photography happens! So I move my tripod with its camera and huge zoom lens to find good light to photograph this cute, hard-working bird. This is why I am out here and so I work fast!

Then to jockey all my equipment to photograph the nest itself was a bigger challenge. I was surprised to see this nest in a palo verde tree, but there it was and I had a chance to see the bird coming out of the nest! Nests are typically built within 10 feet of the ground. Also notice the football-like shape of the nest as it has a side entrance that leads to a nesting chamber. These male birds are known to build “dummy” nests while the female is incubating eggs and also the adults will puncture eggs of other birds nesting nearby!

More often I see cactus wrens building their nests in cholla cactus such as the photo below shows. It is usually the female initiating the nest building with the male taking over and feathers are what they line the nest with. The bird I observed definitely had feathers in his beak.

Another time I will visit this park again, discover more new things, and will check on this nest to know if activity is happening or not. Cactus wrens may mate for life and defend a territory while raising any of their 3 broods through incubation and nest time, so I may see more activity!

Birds keep you on your toes as they fly around doing their work!

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